Paul May

Physical Computing - Extending Physical Photos

16 November 2010

A proposal for my final project for ITP's Introduction to Physical Computing class. A system that lets people add digital information to physical photographs. Tell the story of a physical photograph, save that story somewhere safe, and then retrieve it later. Extending the Physical Photograph

### Read the Full Writeup of Photo+

This article is the initial proposal for Photo+, but the (much more interesting) full writeup of Photo+ is over here. ### Concept (Before I begin, this is still something I'm exploring - I'm writing this as a way of understanding what I want to design/build; don't expect 100% clarity….or brevity.) I'm interested in **the powerful connection between physical objects and memory**. Take my favourite mug as an example; its significance to me has very little to do with its physical form and much more to do with the story of where it came from. When I hold the mug, I am able to recall this story with real clarity. **Objects are tangible interfaces to information** that would otherwise be harder to access. (1) There's another side to this; **when we don't have access to physical objects, we don't have access to the memories they evoke - we forget**. When we file away items, or put things in the attic we aren't just moving objects - **we're saying that, for now, we don't need direct access to the memories that these objects evoke**. When and if we do go to retrieve these objects, we get the chance to re-find and reinterpret our memories. I think this is a hugely valuable process. ### Photos as Tactile Interfaces A Tangible Interface
For me, the tactility of a physical, **printed photo connects me to the story behind the image in a way that a digital photo does not.** Because physical photos are less accessible, and fewer in number - I get to re-discover them each time I open an album or a box of photos, and they feel more valuable. My digital photos are constantly available to me, and I have thousands more of them - but when I look at them I don't get a sense of re-discovery. At the same time, digital photos **offer me a richer ability to store facts about the content and story of an image**. Digital photos can be shared, discussed, remembered and built upon by many people in a way that physical photos can't. ### Finding a Middle Ground: Extending the Physical Photo Explaining this to Myself
I want find a point between the value of the physical photograph, and the capabilities of a digital photograph. I don't want the user to have to scan their photo, creating a “new” instance of the photo - I want it to retain its original, physical format - but with new capabilities. **I'll design and build a system that lets a user take a physical photograph, identify it uniquely to a computer, add digital information, and then put the photograph back where they found it** - to recall the information at a later date. The key parts of the system are: * The photograph - essentially the photograph becomes a unique key - a tangible way to start the recording process, or the retrieval process. * A way to recognise the photo - a system to identify that I want to record or recall information about a specific photo. * A way to record input - a system to record digital information about the photograph * Storage - a place to put the information * Retrieval - a system to retrieve the information at a later date ### Next Steps I want to shoot a simple video prototype of this very soon (ideally tomorrow), then get some feedback from my classmates. Once the idea is more pinned down I'll move forward with research and design; hopefully I should be on the right track by the end of the week. ### Footnotes (1) Memory champions exploit the connection between objects and deeper stories by associating information with objects and then placing these objects in an imagined space. The act of recalling the information becomes a walk through this space to see and interact with objects.

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  • Paul May is a researcher, interaction designer, and technologist from Dublin, Ireland. He is currently working with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center on smart health applications.