This Table Centerpiece Moderates Conversation

Imaging discussing a contentious technical issue with a few colleagues or even strangers over a table. Depending on the personalities…

Jeremy S. Cook
9 months ago

Imagine discussing a contentious technical issue with a few colleagues or even strangers over a table. Depending on the personalities involved, one or more people may dominate the conversation, potentially causing those with excellent technical skills, but a more introverted personality, to be left out — which would obviously hinder the process of getting to a solution. This kind of scenario plays itself out in many arenas, and in order to facilitate better discourse, researchers at MIT Media Lab’s Tangible Media Group, Harvard, and the Media Interaction Lab in Hagenberg, Austria have come up with the SociaBowl.

The system takes the form of a round standing table with an actuated bowl in the middle. Participants tap on the table to indicate the desire to talk, while swiping toward another participant to send positive “thoughts” their way.

Copper wire is embedded in the table’s acrylic surface, which enable an Arduino Uno and capacitive touch shield to detect the interaction. This is then turned into a tangible interface by tilting the bowl to provide candy to another speaker. Attempting to give yourself candy by swiping towards yourself produces only a negative shaking motion.

The team also experimented with several other interactive designs, such as a bowl filled with water as a “Speak ’n Spill.” This configuration senses if someone has been talking too much, and spills water instead of candy on the speaker if others aren’t allowed to participate. Another idea is to fill the tilting mechanism with writing implements, encouraging quieter members of the conversation to participate.

Jeremy S. Cook
Engineer, maker of random contraptions, love learning about tech. Write for various publications, including Hackster!
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