Tactile Data

Experiencing Data Through Different Modalities

October 13, 2011 by trevorhogan | 0 comments

The aim of this project is to evaluate how we experience data through different modalities.  The modalities used for the data representations will be; Visual, Tactile and Haptic.  The source data will be the same for each representation. This data is the most recent global air pollution figures collected by The World Health Organisation.  This database contains results of ‘urban outdoor air pollution monitoring’ from almost 1100 cities in 91 countries. For the purposes of this project the data from six countries were chosen to be represented (Ireland, Greece, Turkey, India, Egypt and the United Kingdom).  The selection of these countries was based on the date of data collection (all were collected in 2009) as well as the variation in results, the six countries range from 15 to 138 annual mean PM10 ug/m3.

Country Annual mean PM10 ug/m3
Ireland 15
India 109
Greece 44
Egypt 138
Turkey 66
United Kingdom 23

This project will involve collecting and collating a dataset, designing and implementing three separate data representations, evaluating a group of research participants experience while using the artefacts and finally analysing and publishing the findings of this study.  The three data representations that will be produced include two bespoke artefacts; DATA STACKER (tactile) and DATABOX (haptic) both of these artefacts are discussed in detail below.  The other representation will use a traditional method of representation data i.e. Bar Graph.  The method of evaluation that will be used is the Repertory Grid Technique.  Further details of this study will be presented soon.

Bar Graph (Visual)

Bar Graph (Visual)

DATA STACKER (tactile)

DATABOX (haptic)






DATA BOX is an interactive responsive object that triggers haptic feedback, in the form ‘knocking’ that represents elements within a dataset.  Each face carries a printed code, which is linked to field within the dataset.  When you scan each face, DATA BOX responds immediately by knocking on the interior of the box.  The user will hear the sound as well as feel the vibrations created by this knocking.  The frequency of the knocks will be predetermined by the data.  DATA BOX can store the data from all 6 countries at any one time (one country from each face) When the code on the face is scanned the name of the country is displayed on a LCD monitor and the internal electronic mechanism begins to knock.  The frequency of knock is determined by the rate of pollution i.e. Ireland 15 knocks per minute with represents the annual mean PM10 ug/m3. This knocking will continue until you scan a different face.

DATABOX (haptic)










System Design
The DATABOX will incorporate many different technologies in order to function.  There will be three main elements; a physical cube, a scanning station and a base station.  The cube will incorporate a knocking mechanism and QR codes that will be read at the scanning station and all the functionality will be synchronized using a laptop.



The cube may be 3D printed using Polypropylene or constructed out of wood.  The knocking mechanism will be made using a 12v Solenoid that will be controlled by an Arduino, which will communicate wirelessly to the laptop.  The scanning station will incorporate a standard PC Webcam and a 12-character LDC display to inform the user of the country choice.  The station will also use a proximity sensor in order to only scan for QR codes when the cube is below the webcam.  Once a code has been detected it communicates the same information to the Arduino in the cube and the Arduino controlling the LCD display.  Then the knocking mechanism will begin to knock at the appropriate rate and the LCD will display the name of the country.

2 Arduino boards, 1K resistor, 3K resistor, TIP120 transistor, 1N4004 diode, External battery supply, 12v solenoid, 2 Xbees, LCD Display & An Infrared Proximity Sensor.

This piece was inspired by the tactile quality of children’s stacking rings.  DATA STACKER includes six blocks which can be stacked up on one another in any order the user wishes.  Each blocks represents the air pollution figures of the following countries; Ireland, Greece, Turkey, India, Egypt and the United Kingdom.  The blocks may be easily disassembled and compared with one another.

`Inspired by a childrens stacker

DATA STACKER (tactile)







DATA STACKER uses the length and width of each block to represent the data of from each country.  All other elements are identical in each block, including the material (all blocks are made from MDF with a transparent varnish) the height is also common across all the blocks.

DATA STACKER (from side)

DATA STACKER (from top)

DATA STACKER (from perspective)