It was a truly touching memorial and we ran down to Trafalgar Square several times to revisit the sculpture, as did many other Londoners and those who’d travelled from further afield to see it.
Given its temporary nature, we wanted to take the opportunity to make 3D captures of the sculpture in its different states and share those online. We did that on the second and fourth day (which was its last). Here’s the model from the second day…
The #MudSoldier was a fitting tribute to remembering the human cost of the First World War. It was lovely to see people who may normally rush across Trafalgar Square stopping in their tracks to observe the sculpture and take a moment to realise its meaning.
We were also thrilled to meet sculptor Damian Van Der Velden and two of the project organisers, Karen Roebuck and Pauline Steverlynck from Visit Flanders, Thank you for letting us loop around the installation snapping away to create the model!
Last week Charlie hopped on a train up to Liverpool to hang out with our tech lead Adrian, here’s an account of what he got up to:
Having never been to Liverpool before I jumped at the chance to make the two or so hour train ride to visit Adrian who is based at DoES Liverpool, a maker space which he co-founded in 2011.
On arrival I was introduced to all of the friendly faces, claimed a desk and set my intro music to a piece by Frédéric Chopin (the space is rigged to play an audio file when you ‘tap-in’ in the morning). I was also introduced to the talking fridge, the gesture bin and the internet-connected coffee machine. Welcome to the wonderful world of DoES Liverpool!
The space is divided between the co-working space and the workshop which has a wealth of kit including two laser cutters (Gerald & Sophia) and several 3D printers. I arrived with a list of things I wanted to get done and so wasted no time with cracking on.
One experiment I had a chance to play with and develop was a cardboard Museum in a Box. I’d prepped a flimsy mock-up in London and was pretty chuffed with the outcome so decided to refine a neater version in the workshop at DoES. This was also a useful opportunity to try out a different internal configuration and a new way to access the tech inside the box.
Being a bit of an architecture enthusiast, spending time in Liverpool was a dream because the buildings vividly tell the story of a busy port city, its development and importance at the time of its height in the British Empire. I’ve dreamed of an ‘architectural box’ for some time now and a tour around the docks provided the inspiration to start just that. Towns and cities across England are littered with great lessons and examples of great architecture but unless you can decode what you are looking at it’s hard to truly interpret and appreciate it. The author and illustrator Matthew Rice says it nicely:
‘Once you can speak any language, conversations can begin, but without it communications can only be brief and brutish. The same is the case with Architecture: an inability to describe the component parts of a building leaves one tongue-tied and unable to begin to discuss what is or is not exciting, dull or peculiar about it.’
Garstang Museum of Archaeology
Adrian and I managed to squeeze in a trip to the Garstang Museum, a museum named after Professor John Garstang, who founded the ‘Institute of Archaeology’ and associated museum in 1904.
Despite its modest size it’s packed with fascinating objects, most of which were excavated by Garstang in Egypt, the Sudan, and the Near East; the collection also contains almost twenty collections of glass-plate negatives relating to Garstang’s archaeological work in these areas. Several of the images have been enlarged and line the walls of the museum providing a fantastic insight into the world of archaeology in the early 20th century.
Something that struck me was the amazing collection of Shabti that are on display in one of the exhibition spaces. Shabti were funerary figures who accompanied the deceased to the after-life, left alongside them inside their tombs. The poorest people may not have had any but even those tombs of modest size would have contained at least one or two Shabti. Those on display in the museum clearly show the range of Shabti and their corresponding value because of the materials used (wood, stone and faience) and their size (from ~10mm up to ~30cm), it was great to see such a diverse representation of people come together within one display case.
If you’re in Liverpool and have a spare hour I can absolutely recommend heading to the Garstang but be sure to plan carefully as the museum only opens on between 10am-4pm every Wednesday.
Back at DoES I was really enjoying being able to work on an idea in one room and nip next door to quickly mock-up a prototype in the workshop so much so that I was still laser-cutting minutes before having to leave to catch a train back to London. I was able to work on and develop some fun ideas including an architecture box which I’ll share some more info on in due course. Thank you Liverpool!
The design of the Brain has evolved as components have been added, removed and replaced. We are improving accessibility to the tech inside, and coming from a sustainable design background I wanted to challenge myself to produce an experimental Brain where the products’ full lifecycle is factored into its design. So, here’s what I’ve been up to…
The aim was for the Brain to do the following:
Provide easy access to the electronics
Enable components to be quickly changed or modified
Completely disassemble easily
First came lots of planning, then sketching and then I got to work CAD-ing up the design. Creating the design digitally first was beneficial as it provided the ability to position the components in a virtual space, adding the wires also helped to visualise how crowded the Brain would be.
The most notable change to the design was how the Brain is held together. We currently glue panels with interlocking finger joints, but for this design they slot into channels on the top and bottom and are pulled together with brass standoffs in each corner. We often get asked how the Brains work but it’s not always easy to demonstrate, we therefore laser-cut the panels in plywood and clear acrylic making it clear to see what’s going on within the skull.
After some light sanding the Brain assembled for the first time and the components easily mounted to the dotted grid. Most importantly the feet can be unscrewed and the base panel lifted providing easy access to add and remove parts.
This Brain has enabled us to improve upon components that were appropriate in the past but no longer live up to our requirements. One example is the power socket which was previously glued to a laser cut shim and had a tendency to come loose, we managed to source a panel mount version which now works a treat (see pictures below).
Original glued power socket
New panel mount power socket
I’m very happy with how well the design turned out, I’ve lost count how many times I’ve disassembled and reassembled it. We’ve primarily been using it as a prototyping Brain to quickly test out components and content but it’s also made us big fans of acrylic and we now have plans for a colourful set of CMYK boxes!
We’ve made about 20 prototype boxes now and have learned a great deal from each one. We wanted to highlight one particular box we made a couple of months ago where we experimented with a smaller form and what making it has taught us.
The design of the box or ‘skull’ (the plywood/acrylic case that contains the tech) as we refer to it is dictated by two things: the form factor of the Raspberry Pi in question and all the features we feel necessary for the product to have.
Early on we were creating boxes with the Pi 2 which required a dongle to connect the box to the internet but several months ago we switched to the Pi 3 which features built-in WiFi saving space within the skull. Raspberry Pi also make the ‘Zero’ which is about half the size of the Pi 3, we liked the idea of a small box which would be more transportable and also not require mains power connection so we designed a smaller square brain inspired by the recorder box we made back in October.
I (Charlie) got to work with the layout of the hardware inside the box trying out a new method of speaker mount while Adrian worked his tech wizardry to figure out what hardware to adapt and then got cutting! The square brain featured several changes from the regular rectangle namely:
a power on/off button
push button volume control
No LED progress bar
an internal battery charged via a Pi charger board and micro USB cable
A single speaker mounted to one side
We tested the box at Nottingham’s Explorers Fair (we’ll share a post on that soon) where we had it set up alongside the standard rectangular box. Seeing the two side-by-side it was clear the rectangle with its larger surface area provided more of a platform for the children to place multiple objects on top of however the square allowed them to pick the box up and put it to their ear or sit down on the the floor with it.
Despite working well and having great mobility the square box also had some obvious limitations:
the Pi Zero only allowed us one speaker, so the sound wasn’t as good
the clicky volume buttons weren’t as effective or efficient as a dial
the lack of our physical progress bar didn’t help people understand they had to wait a bit
larger objects might not balance well on the smaller top
We do love the smaller form factor but when you put the two designs side-by-side the larger rectangular box has a greater presence, not to mention more room for fiddly cables and components. It was a great thing to prototype and has since influenced alterations for our bigger boxes. This won’t be the last you see of square boxes however, I’ve had some fun recently prototyping a bigger ‘Design-for-Disassembly box, but all that is for another day.
Putting boxes in front of people in the big wide world is very important because it allows us to find out exactly what does and doesn’t work. We make regular efforts to reach out to both teachers and pupils to figure out how best we can evolve and design the product to fit the needs of the classroom.
Back in November I (Charlie) joined a group of teachers, part of the East Sussex History Network at Heathfield Community College in East Sussex, to introduce them to Museum in a Box, learn about their own teaching methods and hear how they envisage the product benefiting their classroom activities. I had visited the school previously to demo a box during a history class which resulted in a lot of excited year seven pupils so it was an intriguing prospect to see whether the teachers would respond with equal enthusiasm!
In short I was overwhelmed by the positive reaction to the box and it was great to see the teachers coming up with imaginative ways they would use a box and its content as part of a wider community of History teachers. Here’s a short list of the takeaways from the meeting:
Age range – the teachers strongly believed that a box could easily sit across any year group and would be particularly effective for those doing their GCSEs in Key Stage 4 and even 5. This was particularly in view of the box being used for revision to revisit teaching material without having to search through a text book. One teacher said in response “my sixth formers would love this”.
Path to purchase – how the schools would get hold of a box and content came up several times particularly considering different budgeting options available to them to acquire teaching materials. The teachers who were from different schools suggested the idea of sharing ‘boopable’ content amongst themselves given they already have a channel of communication established between the network and commonality of teaching topics.
Home-made material – responses to where they currently source their physical teaching material and prompts included: museum shops, car boot sales and ebay with ‘a desperate need for [supplementary resources] for GCSE’. This was furthered by a discussion about teachers using a customisable box to record their own descriptions to objects and maybe even add tags to objects they have collected themselves.
Record-ability – is a primary interest for teachers to design classroom activities with a box on every table.
Class activities – How boxes could be positioned around the classroom was raised several times providing a means for pupils to explore the content for themselves, moving around the tables to hear a different topic or account of an event of period in history.
Sourcing objects – There are currently only a limited number of services to acquire physical objects for the classroom, however the ability to loan sets of objects for a whole term from some provides greater flexibility to when topics can be taught.
Basic lessons plans – as a starting point it would be useful to have simple lesson plans, teachers would adapt to their classrooms as and when they see fit.
Different levels of access – “Having mutli-versions of the same materials at different levels of depth would be very helpful, so there is the same material pitched easily… but they use language and an insight that’s more sophisticated or broad or much more simplified and basic.”
It was a great session and I’m great to all the teachers of the East Sussex History Network. That’s all for now!
The competition asked entrants to capture and modify an object that they use for their ‘favourite hobby’. We considered adapting a piece of our photography kit used for photogrammetry but opted instead for a more playful approach and hacked a scan of Ramesses II, one of the largest sculptures in the British Museum:
Next we were required to customise it to best suit our needs, it may seem surprising but we have quite a few 3D prints hanging around our Bloomsbury HQ yet few cool places to store them. Cue light bulb moment, why not make a giant Ramesses and use him to store a bunch of smaller prints!
We identified six scans that we could place within niches inside the big Ramesses including a smaller Ramesses bust (Ramception) and then got to work using Fusion 360 to modify the original scan.
First we had to reduce the polycount in order to open and edit the sculpture in Fusion which was then swiftly sliced in half. A hinge was then created by extruding a circle into a cylinder and splitting it into five parts which were then alternately combined to the front and back bodies. We also modelled a simple pin to lock the two halves together completing the hinge that would enable the secret stash of models to be opened and closed.
The final steps involved scaling-down and reducing the polycount of the six smaller models and positioning them where best, then all that remained was to trace a rough outline of each onto the flat plane, cut away each niche and insert the models.
Unfortunately we didn’t win the competition otherwise we would almost certainly have our heads buried in VR right now but nevertheless we’re very happy with the outcome and the awesome job MyMiniFactory did of printing it!
The conference focused around the long-term durability and accessibility of 3D models and scan data for future uses, uses which as we discovered in some of the talks may not be immediately obvious. I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on a few thoughts and favourite take-aways.
Having a good understanding of photogrammetry (primarily by probing Tom for tips and tricks) I opted to skip the workshops and stick with talks for the whole day, it was intense but informative and an eye-opener into a community that I didn’t even know really existed! So… a few highlights:
Stuart Jeffrey from the Glasgow School of Art (GSA) discussed a use-case where an old 3D model of the GSA Mackintosh Building which suffered severe fire damage in 2014 provided evidence that a substantial lean on the West gable wall was historic and had not come about as a result of the fire. Members of the GSA Digital Design Studio produced a second model the day after the fire to compare the lean and save a large portion of the building from demolition an impressive feat and one which illustrated the importance of making good data accessible in the long-term.
Anthony Corns from the Discovery Programme talked about his experiences of archiving and reusing 3D data as well as the steps and software involved in the creation of a model. One slide showed a standard software stack consisting of about 12 programmes which was somewhat surprising, working with Tom to process various models I am slowly but surely becoming aware and familiar with the wide range of tools out there.
Anthony also spoke about using scan data to asses pressure on different sites his example being Skellig Michael which has witnessed a surge in tourist numbers since Luke Skywalker decided to hang there in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This also demonstrated when are where it may be appropriate to sell 3D data such as to film/production crews.
Chris Moran who heads the Wellcome Trust legal team gave an insightful talk on Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) an area where people often become a little tangled. I was listening from a design perspective so it was interesting to see examples where cases had been argued and won based on the potentially loose definitions of what constitutes something as an ‘original creation’ or even a database, his example being a newspaper’s website. Star Wars references were also utilised here in the form of the IP rights of a Stormtrooper’s helmet… I sense a pattern developing.
Vincent Rossi and Jon Blundell of the Smithsonian appeared via Skype to discuss their work on digitisation and also show off their amazing work on the Apollo 11 command module ‘Columbia’ check it out here.
I had the opportunity to ask a question to our speakers from across the pond which was kinda cool!
Finally perhaps the most insightful moment was the final ‘Round-up chat’. Here following a panel chat the audience were invited to reflect on: what is to be done and how to address the gaps in our knowledge?
It was clear there was a desire for good collaborative practise and several rousing speeches were made, there was a great deal to get off the chest! A key agreement was that to work with better tools and formats, instead of trying to create new ones, complain about a lack of essential features, and live in fear of formats going extinct, why not establish a line of communication with the developers and those behind the existing platforms. The software stack slide that Anthony showed sprung to mind and it became apparent there was a need for openness and better communication between all parties involved in 3D work not just in the short term and not just for individuals and independent organisations but the community as a whole.
We recently paid a visit to our friends at MOO HQ which is only a stones throw from our Bloomsbury base to meet up with Toby Hextall and Phil Thomas who are the go-to designers on all things product and packaging. We wanted to get some packaging tips and also start prototyping a few concepts and Toby and Phil were kind enough to help us out.
The Moo office is a beautiful and inspiring place and so we couldn’t help but take a few snaps before getting down to business.
After a catchup and some brainstorming we set to work on a first iteration container to house a brain box and set of MOO’s NFC cards. They have some great kit and we were able to prototype a set of packaging inserts and a card box using their Graphtec FC2250 Flatbed Plotter. The machine cuts and scores each piece of card very fast and accurately and it also works with an inDesign plug-in making the whole experience super smooth.
We learnt a lot about product packaging in a short period of time and worked through several iterations of inserts designed to hold a ply brain box and business card box. Whilst refining a design we also tried out various card stocks including thick corrugated sheets and recycled craft card. We discovered that the insert had a tendency to rise up around the plywood brain box so added two flaps that the brain would sit on top of to prevent this rising from happening. The box of cards also caused the insert to flex and so we tried out different tab widths as well as corrugated card to work around that.
Below is a video put together to show the machine we used to cut the inserts and the iterations in a little more detail:
We’re excited to see what else we can produce and how we can develop our packaging prototypes. We hope to spend some more time with Phil, Toby and the rest of the team in the future and we’ll keep you posted as always as things develop. Exciting times!
Before I get rambling, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Charlie and I’m the latest addition to the Museum in a Box crew. I spent some time with George and Tom as a visiting researcher shortly after their transition to the new Bloomsbury HQ in the spring; but now spring has sprung and summer is done I’m lucky enough to have joined as Junior Designer and officially one of the team. On with the post!
It’s been a while since we’ve written about the various goings on at Museum in a Box so I’d like to take a moment to break down a few developments of late.
Up until now the product has revolved around two parts: the Brain (the box) and the artefacts, either 3D prints or 2D postcards. The interaction too has remained relatively unchanged with an object placed on the box triggering audio which provides context to its origins and history. The audio content that plays has often been a unique script written and narrated by one of the team, however as a great deal of our focus is on the box being used within the classroom, providing information around an object is only half the interaction. Seeing as each box is powered by a Raspberry Pi we’ve begun to explore new ways that we can use that to ramp up the fun that users can have with the box.
A box that listens?
When we consider how the box may be used in the classroom one important factor is how it can act as an intermediary between pupil and teacher. We’ve seen how well school pupils react and get stuck-in with the box and its objects, so finding a way for that to fit in with lesson plans and teaching is important. In response we’ve started work on a new component, a recorder box which will contain a microphone and aims to compliment the box and its objects.
We’ve had the idea of being able to record to the brain in our minds for some time and we’ve been asked again and again if a record feature is on the cards. Seeing as it had come up in discussion so often we thought it was time to crack on with a spot of prototyping!
We begun by mocking up a few cardboard interfaces with various button configurations, as well as postcards which could control what mode the box was in but ultimately decided that if the recorder box is plugged in, and an object is placed on the brain, it will switch to ‘record mode’ and announce just that. The box will then issue a count down and allow the user to record their own description of the object with the options to replay, delete and save their recording. This new recording will now play every time that object is ‘booped’ unless a newer recording is made.
The recorder box will alter the way we think of the content associated with any given object, instead of it being a predetermined description, by plugging in the recorder the user can create their own customised audio. With the object descriptions essentially in flux the recorder will lend itself very well to classroom activities where teachers could set unique tasks to objects that pupils can then record over with their own responses.
We’re now starting to talk to teachers, and understand who the product is serving and how we see the record box working both inside and outside the classroom: whether it’s museum staff creating activities for visitors or parents recording stories for friends and family, we’re super excited to be prototyping this new tool and will keep you updated as things develop.