Interactive Physical LED Installation and Web Application Design

aQRium Goals for The New England Aquarium

Background

Designing Interactions is a course at MIT that explores user experience within pervasive computing while taking into consideration design, technological, social and business aspects. For the second half of the semester, we partnered with the New England Aquarium to prototype interactive installations using new technologies for their future research and development plans.

To create our installation for the New England Aquarium, my partner and I used Illustrator, inDesign, inVision, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and Python Flask to prototype and implement our web application in conjunction with individually-addressable LED strips, Arduino, concrete, stickers, and 3D printing to prototype and implement the physical table top and accompanying post-engagement gifts associated with a visitor's experience.

Problem

The New England Aquarium provides a visitor experience that is both educational and entertaining, yet the aquarium’s fast-tempo and dense space can detract from a fully enriching educational experience.

How can we create an interactive installation in an underutilized space that:

  • Engages visitors in learning about ocean conservation

  • Rewards them for committing to helping with conservation

  • Capitalizes on phone presences to promote learning about coral and ocean conservation

  • Connects visitors to immediate access to an informational post-visit platform 

Goal

To quickly teach visitors that human activity is destroying the ocean’s coral reefs, to empower visitors to take individual action, and to offer them further educational resources.

Our vision is that users would see the LED coral installation, feel intrigued enough to approach it, and would then interact with our educational web platform via museum iPads or their personal phone. Then, they could walk away to enjoy the rest of their visit after receiving fun stickers and an emailed link of tips for water conservation.

Below is the storyboard for how an individual could choose to interact with the installation.

 
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Implementation

  • Creating an interactive installation that incentivizes visitors to pledge to conserving the ocean by rewarding them with instant gratification in the form of coral lights, sticker gifts, and digital gifts and
  • Connecting visitors to a web-accessible page that provides facts and easy instructions about ocean conservation efforts

Iterations

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Our first iteration was mostly theoretical. We flushed out a table idea for an installation that invited a user to interact with it and then connected them to the associated web application that would teach users about what they could do to protect the environment. We generated a QR code that we linked to a site and coded the arduino to make the LED strips light up in a pattern.

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Our next rounds of iterations focused on realizing the physical and digital aspects of our installation. We casted the concrete brain coral table to with negative space to hold the LED strips. We also coded the front end of our web application, which is accessible via iPad, mobile device, or computer. We also brought iPads into our installation to make the exhibit not just accessible for visitors holding their mobile devices. Finally, we created stickers (held in a 3D-printed sticker holder) so that visitors could take with them to spread the word about ocean conversation and the aquarium's role in that effort.

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Conclusion

After creating a high-fidelity prototype, we presented a live demo of our interactive installation to multiple members of the New England Aquarium's executive board, including the CEO.

If you'd like to see the web portion of our aQRium Goals project, click this link.