Expanding the possibilities of touchless spaces at Fab@CIC

A new Maker-in-Residence program brings local makers to Fab@CIC, a makerspace and digital fabrication lab in Downtown Boston. Run in collaboration between CIC Boston and the Fab Foundation, Fab@CIC brings makers, designers, innovators, and entrepreneurs into the community and connects them with tools to turn ideas into physical things. In this dispatch, Fab@CIC’s inaugural Maker-in-Residence, DC Denison, shares his plans for a project to engage the public at Boston’s hub for inventors and tinkerers. 

In July, I started my term as the first Maker-in-Residence at Fab@CIC. The new position comes with a built-in initial project: explaining what a Maker-in-Residence is or does.

So here goes: A Maker-in-Residence is awarded a six-month membership to Fab@CIC, including access to equipment and support from Fab@CIC staff, to realize a project. In turn, via this project, the Maker-in-Residence contributes to the vibrancy and imagination of the Fab@CIC community and shares passion and insights with other makers and creatives.

Since a major part of the appeal of this residency is interacting with the greater Fab@CIC community, I’d like to share my planned project at the outset with this wide network in hopes of attracting some insights, suggestions, and feedback.

But first, a bit about me. I’ve been in journalism and technology for a long time. Lately, I’ve been exploring how both of these fields overlap with maker hardware (like laser cutters and 3D printers) and the Internet of Things, which refers to the connection of devices and everyday objects to the internet and, thus, each other. With that, let’s get to the project!  

Hi Hat prototype with foot Aug2020.png

The working title of my project at Fab@CIC is “Touch*Less,” and it will be a survey of a variety of accessible technologies that enable interactivity without contact. The project will be built around the idea of the now ubiquitous hand sanitation stations that we’ve come to expect in retail and food establishments due to COVID-19. 

Touch*Less will include one or more touchless hand sanitizing dispensers, but it will also expand the touchless concept to new areas, including some fanciful, hopefully humorous ones. The overall goal, however, is serious: to explore contactless technologies that public spaces can use to engage customers without endangering them. 

Touch*Less will be built on top of the existing Mixed Reality Challenge, created at Fab@CIC, that has been running at the entrance to Render Coffee at Fab@CIC and at CIC’s partner space District Hall for more than a year. 

This Mixed Reality Challenge invites users of these spaces to explore augmented reality images on the walls and wave their hands at a Gachapon machine, like the one pictured below, to dispense a small item — such as an origami coupon for a free cup of coffee at Render or 15% off a meal at Tikkaway.

In times of Covid-19, the gachapon machine now dispenses moist towelettes to wipe down your cell phone.

In times of Covid-19, the gachapon machine now dispenses moist towelettes to wipe down your cell phone.

Touch*Less will expand and extend these displays using touchless technologies like gesture sensors, ultrasonic sensors, time-of-flight lasers, and passive infrared sensors. The project will also experiment with new contactless rides at the entrance to Render on Devonshire Street and at the Seaport Boulevard exit at District Hall. 

If you visit either of these spaces, keep your eyes open for a refreshing Glamour Fan and a Birdsong of the Month — both enabled by a touchless interaction. 

Please stop by both these locations, Fab@CIC and District Hall, and check out the evolving display over the next six months. And if you have an interest in these technologies, drop me a line at dc@mixedrealityreport.net!

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