RFID Fun at PICNIC 2009

club picnic

I just left Amsterdam with Geeks on a Plane. We were there for PICNIC, an annual technology-art conference in Amsterdam. One of the highlights of the conference are the RFID projects. Each attendee is given an RFID tag (an ik tag) that can be linked to their conference social network profile (we modeled our own RFID experiments at ETech after PICNIC’s). The RFID tags unlock fun projects that are scattered across Club PICNIC’s (pictured above). Most of the projects were built the week before PICNIC in a Hack Camp hosted by media-arts lab Mediamatic.

Most of the projects required at least two people to play. Once you unlocked a project with someone you were connected on the conference social network. A record of your interaction (be it a picture, a drawing or your win/loss record at a game) was also added. There were 10 projects in total. Here were some stand outs.

ika sketch

ik-a-sketch – This is a huge Etech-a-Sketch that requires two RFID-enabled people to draw with. Each person only controls one axis of the drawing line — it’s not easy to draw with it. The interface was written in Processing. The knobs are potentiometers that feed into an Arduino.

kati red gnome

ikGnome – There are photobooths all over PICNIC. If you wave your RFID tag your photo is taken, tagged and uploaded. There are also two Gnome hats being passed around. One is red and the other is blue. When you wave the hat’s tag your picture in one it is added to that color’s page (blue is currently beating red). There was something about the simplicity of this one that appealed to me (and about 300 other people).

ikTrek – This is a game of tug-of-war. However, the more people you have in your social network the greater your advantage. The rope is wrapped around a motorized axle in between the two teams. If your team has more people in their social network then the motor helps you. As someone who was on the losing end of a match I can attest that it makes a difference.

The tags cost less than a dollar each. They were ordered from a vendor in China. When we went through the process (with the same vendor) we were able to choose the shape and custom artwork. The hardware component moves the challenge beyond the web. How will the person and project physically interact? What mechanical elements are needed? I suspect that Arduinos were used in a lot of the projects to route sensor data to networked machine.

ik frog

However, the challenges are definitely worth it. The projects at PICNIC (and at ETech) all involved getting people to play and socialize. It added an element of fun to people’s interactions with technology – something that I think is always worth doing.