Soft inflatable robots to take over Bristol this summer

The Playable City development programme’s six creative winners have been revealed, with projects ranging from AI-dodging games and a “sci-fi-infused digital jungle”.

Cultural organisation Watershed has unveiled the six interactive projects which have received funding to appear on the streets of Bristol as the winners of the Playable City Sandbox programme.

The programme encourages designers and artists to create playful, human-centred technology installations, awarding each of the six winners £45K to turn their designs into protypes. Playable City Sandbox is produced by Watershed as part of MyWorld – a research and innovation programme for the UK’s technology sector – which is funded by UK Research and Innovation’s Strength in Places Fund.

The idea is that, when finished, the prototypes are placed around Bristol, this year triggering conversations about inclusion, sustainability, surveillance and the future of cities. Another wider goal is to help improve the creative technology ecosystem of the West of England.

The winners

Creative robotics studio Air Giants build inflatable, pneumatically controlled robots. Its project Squeeze Me seeks to create a visual and tactile experience using inflatable soft robotic technology. When the inflatable and illuminated prototypes are finished, they will be wrapped around trees, lamp posts or other street furniture. Passers-by will be encouraged to hug, squeeze, lean on or poke them, following which the robots will respond with shape-change, light and sound.

Another of the winning projects called How (not) to be hit by a self-driving car aims to explore the effects of advancements in surveillance. Tomo Kihara + Playfool created a game in which humans have to avoid being detected by AI that anyone can play.

A feminist art group of Somali women called The Dhaqan Collective are responsible for The House of Weaving Songs which – like most of their work – seeks to foreground the voices of women and elders in their community. The collective’s interactive installation inspired by the Somali-style nomadic structure called the Aqal, is an integration of Somali weaving songs and woven tapestries. The experiment’s aim is to connect the city to cultural practices that could help inspire people to tackle climate change.

Fireflies, a Glitch, by Screaming Color and Arcane is designed to be digital experience that will turn streets and landmarks in Bristol into a “sci-fi-infused digital jungle” with visuals and local music without an app. It will be created by a new studio called Glitch AR, which focuses on building connections between physical and digital realities. The team includes XR producer and ex-head of immersive entertainment for NBCUniversal Michael Salmon and founder of Bath-based interactive media studio Whiley & Co. Ossian Whiley.

Designed for passengers using Bristol Temple Meads station, London-based artist and designer Jake Wates and creative technologist Thomas Blackburn’s project involves installing a zoetropic light experience, designed to be viewed from moving train windows upon arrival and departure. Its goal is to frame the railway as “a cinematic space of arrival” in the city.

Meanwhile hardware graffiti installation Street Pixel aims to use creative technology, game design and a sustainable approach to materials and electronic hardware to strengthen the relationships between people and their cities. Interdisciplinary studio Biome Collective is behind the project.

The work will be showcased around Bristol for one week in July 2023.

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