Science, technology and a stuffed squid named Archie

Engineering students learning that greater computer interaction is all within a plush tentacle's reach

 by Claudia Koerner
 published on Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Bettina Hansen / THE STATE PRESS
MY NAME IS...: Archie, The Sensor Squid Relation Game’s home, is on an inky-blue couch in the Brickyard.

As engineering students walk through the computers and labs of the Brickyard, they might stop and take a second look at Archie, a large stuffed squid that makes research look more like child's play.

Students in ASU's Reflective Living project are looking at new ways to use technology and bring it into everyday life through the Arts and Media Engineering program.

"Technology is really about us," said Lisa Tolentino, a media arts and sciences graduate student working on the project.

The idea of making technology friendlier led to the creation of Archie, the Sensor Squid — a large plush squid with sensors in its tentacles that lets a group of people click and scroll through a computer program instead of fighting for control over a single computer mouse.

"It's basically a big remote control," said fellow media arts and sciences graduate student Becky Stern, who actually sewed together Archie last semester.

To operate the squid, each person holds one tentacle, which can be used to scroll through material, make selections or change what appears on the screen. To navigate through a software program, the group has to work together and communicate about their decisions.

Students have been using Archie since the semester began.

"People who are lounging around together can use it at the same time," Stern said. "It's more of a distributive action."

The way the squid is set up makes it ideal for group collaboration, Stern added. In most office or research settings, working groups meet hunched over their laptops. Using the squid, which is fun and allows more than one person to work the controls, opens up communication and moves the work along, Stern said.

Tolentino called this approach a "creativity intervention."

"You give people an experience that is far beyond what you expect it to be," Tolentino said.

Reflective Living faculty adviser Aisling Kelliher said he thinks this approach to technology will become more popular.

"Why shouldn't we have playful interactions in our workplace?" Kelliher said.

The idea of creating a playful version of technology is how the group decided to build a plush squid.

To log on to the squid, group members flash a bracelet with an radio-frequency ID tag — the same kind of identifier as in a Sun Card — against the squid's face. Inside his head is a mini computer that connects to the sensors with long wires, which are covered with stuffing inside his tentacles.

"There's this trend in soft, comfortable things that are less artificial and plastic," Stern said.

Stern said even the Radio-Frequency IDs the group uses are an example this. Instead of using a card or a tag, Stern sewed, beaded and braided individual bracelets that reflect the wearer's personality, as well as containing the chip.

"You don't have to change your design style to achieve high-tech," Stern said.

Kelliher said the bracelets are an example of a personalized approach to technology. Though the bracelet is a tool for work, she said she occasionally wears it out simply because she likes how it looks.

"We can hide technology, but we can also bring it forward," Kelliher said.

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