Think of the many smart devices we carry that we interact with while on the bus, at dinner with friends and family, or walking the halls of Carleton. This got grad student Anthony Scavarelli thinking about the isolation this can cause as people stare at a small screen rather than interacting with the people around them.
As both a programmer and artist, Scavarelli wanted to focus on using technology to bring people together in public spaces, as opposed to further apart.
So he decided to pursue a Master’s degree in Human-Computer Interaction at Carleton, “as it felt like it would be a great fit for researching further how art, people, and technology can be brought together in a meaningful and accessible manner.”
Over the past year, Scavarelli has put his degree to good use.
He has produced different installations that use affective touch (touch that creates emotional attachment) and object-detecting algorithms (used to track people’s positions and motions – like the Xbox 360 Kinect). These installations are then displayed in public places, allowing multiple people to interact with the artwork in collaboration with each other.
“How people feel about interacting in a crowd-based form like this, and what kind of information we can gather from this “crowd shape” is our main research interest at this time,” says Scavarelli.
One project began as a directed study as part of his HCI research. Called Self-Reflection, the installation used touch to try and create a connection between an image of a small child on a large touchable canvas and the persons touching it. The child silhouette reacted with happiness, sadness, anger or indifference, depending on how the person touched the screen.
“I have always been fascinated by the concept of an inner or forgotten child,” says Scavarelli. “When we were children we had so many dreams, and into adulthood we have either done that child proud, forgotten them, or possibly failed them. By allowing a simple method for us to interact with this child in a more literal sense, I wanted to build an emotional connection between the child silhouette and the viewer.”
The grad student is also a co-founder of Luminartists.
One of their projects was on display at the Museum of Nature last year. It used a transparent rear projection screen, giving the illusion of a floating virtual dinosaur. It was composed of 1000’s of particles that were emitted from the interaction by the audience visiting the space.
More recently, Scavarelli led a team to design and build an interactive light installation for the lobby of Invest Ottawa.
Scavarelli says that he enjoys the HCI program, particularly the professors’ wide-ranging and varied expertise and perspectives.
“All of the professors and staff associated with the HCI program have helped me to succeed, as well as impressing upon me the importance of self-learning and self-motivation,” says Scavarelli.”
He singled out Dr. Ali Arya. “Whenever I have encountered difficulty within this program, he has always kept his door open, often with some great suggestions as to how to help.”
Adds the grad student: “Beyond this, I enjoy the wide-ranging backgrounds of the students and their many interesting perspectives and cultures from around the world. It is so wonderful to be able to walk into a class located in one room in the beautiful River Building and be surrounded by the world.”