Soft inflatable robots to take over Bristol this summer

Six creative winners of the Playable City development program have been revealed, with projects ranging from AI-assisted games and a “sci-fi-infused digital hook”.

Cultural organization Watershed has revealed the six interactive projects that have received funding to appear on the streets of Bristol as winners of the Playable City Award.

The award encourages designers and artists from around the globe to create fun, human-centred technology installations, awarding each of the six winners £45K to turn their designs into props. The Playable City development program is produced by Watershed as part of MyWorld – a research and innovation program for the UK’s technology sector – funded by the UK’s Research and Innovation Places Strength Fund.

The idea, once completed, is to place the prototypes across Bristol in what Watershed calls the Playable City Sandbox, this year encouraging conversations about inclusion, sustainability, surveillance and the future of cities. Another wider goal is to help improve the West of England’s creative tech ecosystem.

The winners

creative robot studio Air Giants builds inflatable, air-controlled robots. His Squeeze Me project seeks to create a visual and tactile experience using soft robotic inflatable technology. When the inflatable and lighted prototypes are finished, they will be wrapped around trees, lamp posts or other street furniture. Passersby will be encouraged to hug, squeeze, squeeze or wake them, after which the robots will respond with shape-shifting, light and sound.

Another of the winning projects called How to (not) get hit by a self-driving car aims to explore the effects of advances in surveillance. Tomo Kihara + Playfool created a game where people have to avoid being detected by AI that anyone can play.

A feminist group of Somali women called The Daqan Collective is responsible for The House of Weaving Songs which – like most of their work – tries to bring to the fore the voices of women and elders in their community. The collective’s interactive installation is inspired by the Somali-style nomadic structure known as the Aqal, an integration of Somali weaving songs and woven tapestries. The aim of the experiment is to connect the city with cultural practices that can help motivate people to tackle climate change.

Fireflies, a Glitch, by Screaming Color and Arcane is designed to be a digital experience that turns the streets and landmarks of Bristol into a “sci-fi-infused digital jungle” with local visuals and music without an app. It will be created by a new studio called Glitch AR, which focuses on building connections between physical and digital realities. The team includes XR producer and former head of immersive entertainment for NBCUniversal Michael Salmon and founder of Bath-based interactive media studio Whiley & Co. Ossian Whiley.

Bristol Temple Meads station will be occupied by London-based artist and designer Jake Wates and creative technologist Thomas Blackburn whose project involves installing a zoetropic light experience, designed to be viewed from the windows of a moving train on arrival and departure . His goal is to frame the railway as a “cinematic space of arrival” in the city.

Meanwhile hardware graffiti installation Street Pixel aims to use creative technology, game design and a sustainable approach to electronic materials and hardware to strengthen the relationship between people and their cities. The interdisciplinary studio Biome Collective is behind the project.

The work will be exhibited around Bristol for a week in July 2023.

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