Mapping, Data and Paper Circuits Explorations

Over the past few weeks, we've started work on a collaboration with NEXMAP, to help develop starting points for tinkering with a project called Open Data/Open Minds, where they are combining data with paper circuits to create interactive, programmed maps, using Jie Qi's amazing Chibi Chip

For the project, we're engaging in a R&D process to discover what data might be interesting to map, think about different scales to visualize data and test out what basic circuits and chunks of code can support initial investigations. 


Nicole starting out by making an initial designs with mapping out potential paths for humans and butterflies to explore the garden in her front yard. This really showed the potential for amping up the art element of the activity, but for even more approachable examples (that still had an nice aesthetic quality) I started testing out using Stamen watercolor maps as a overlay. 


The first experiment I did was at lodestar school with our intern Hetgar creating a few ideas for possible programmed maps that could use data. The first was a simple pushbutton to show a favorite location (I chose a coffee shop) and the second demonstrated lights moving down a highway. This seemed to have some potential for both just animating a route, looking up average traffic conditions as well as applying real time road data to the design. 

I think that the progression from storytelling to using existing data to incorporating live data is important to explore for the templates and examples that we are creating. 

The next mapping project that I worked on was a visualization of an upcoming European trip for talks residencies and workshops in several locations. I added LEDs to each airport I would be traveling through and wanted to code the locations of departures, arrivals and stopovers with different colors. I ended up not having time to do a complex code, but it was still cool to see the playful visualization. 


As well with this data set, there could be a lot of interesting things to pull in about airport traffic, percent of delayed flights, waiting areas with good cheeseburger options or other important data points. 


I returned to this idea during a pop-up tinkering session with Lindsay Balfour of Strawbees on a train from Gothenburg to Stockhom. I cut down on the number of cities (or LEDs) on the map and worked on two different codes with the same points. 

For the first version, I made a code that blinked the number of nights I spent in each city in order. One nice micro-innovation was renaming the variables to correspond to the appropriate cities and making notes in the code explaining the data. 

For the second iteration, I wanted to show the population of the different cities by creating a faster or slower blink time. I looked up the numbers and divided them roughly by 100,000 to get a number that worked for the fade example sketch. This was a little more complicated and there were more variables to explore, but I think that this idea of scaling data to match the code parameters is an interesting one. 

In the meantime, Lindsay worked on a map of the places in the bay area where she had lived and worked. I really liked how she worked out some simple pop-ups to make an easier transition between the copper tape layout and the overlaying map. 


We're at the halfway point for this collaboration and these initial experiments will nicely inform the creation of low threshold templates for teachers and students to start the process of tinkering with programming and data. It will be important to keep in mind the variety of scales and complexities, examples of open-ended code and an emphasis on art and story-telling as ways to open up the process. Looking forward to more prototypes and sharing of projects. 

Ryan Jenkins