Overt Noise

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Overt Noise N


CubeSats Fred Wordie Early 2017

A project exploring how CubeSats could enable a new kind of unfiltered and ambient social media.

THE BRIEF This project provides a framework for you to investigate alternative ways of interacting with low earth orbit small satellites; and an opportunity to design imaginative artefacts, services, environments, experiences and interactions. Small satellites or CubeSats can undoubtedly facilitate such designs and, in this project, you are being asked to consider ways in which they can be used to both reveal and address the development of social and personal dynamics, which will, in all likelihood, connect people-people, people-things, and things-things. More specifically, you are being asked to speculate regarding the ways in which small satellites can shape design experiences in various contexts –e.g. domestic, tourism, mobility, urban, rural etc. Remember, this project is about how we might live with small satellites, not simply how we do live, at present. We call this, “the alternative now” (e.g. what we can do today, which reframes possibilities?). Your task is not to solve existing problems, or to refine/ improve the status quo, or deal with the project from an engineering/ technological perspective: the brief requires you to formulate and evidence of alternative scenarios, and to design in response to these. This means that the data and insights you generate during the research phase is a platform for conceptual extrapolation and design exploration. You will be proposing design speculations, which do not, as yet, exist: therefore, the visualisation, tangibility and communication of these experiences and the evidence for your proposed designs will be crucial. Bear in mind that we are not asking you to invent future technologies, but rather to think about how existing (or emerging) technologies can be used to mediate imaginative personal/ social behaviours and interactions. This project explores notions of personal or social storytelling in relation to “alternative nows” in which small satellites are connected with life on planet Earth.

KEY TERMS CubeSat: A miniaturized satellite for space research that usually has a volume of exactly one liter (10 cm cube), has a mass of no more than 1.33 kilograms, and typically uses commercial off-the-shelf components for its electronics. Lifecasting: the continual broadcast of events in a person’s life through digital media. Typically, lifecasting is transmitted through the medium of the Internet and can involve wearable technology. Moore’s Law: Computer performance per dollar doubles every eighteen months

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Init ia l R e s e a r c h Ho n in g I n Init ia l I d e a De v e lo p m e nt T he Co nce p ts T he Ae s th e t i c T he S e r v i c e Fi n al De s i g n Last T ho ug h ts

1. http://www.forbes.com/sites/ amitchowdhry/2016/04/30/ study-links-heavy-facebook-andsocial-media-usage-to-depression/#a2ddc867e4bb 2. https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=z2L0y79PRrg&t 3. http://www.wired.co.uk/article/ ip-bill-law-details-passed

Initial Research ANALYSING CURRENT TRENDS AND FINDING DESIGN OPPORTUNITIES WITH AN ALTERNATIVE NOW To open this project we were presented with an emerging and potentially game changing technology of CubeSat’s. A new kind of Nano Satellite that is easily deployable, and cheap compared to current offers from traditional satellites. The idea was to find a new use for these affordable satellites that could have the potential to augment how we interact socially. With this in mind our research group decided to throw the net wide and thoroughly explore any and every current trend we could find, unbounded by the what the CubeSat’s could interact with technologically. With this research and a really engaging workshop organised by Santini Basra, our research group found 3 interesting insights. The first insight came after exploring the relationships involved in current free online services; there is a sort of love triangle between users who expect “free” online services, the companies like google who have to finance these “free” online services and companies who end up paying for these “free” services by paying for adverts or data. Would there


be some way that CubeSat’s could be used to rethink the way we pay for services online? The second insight was sparked after reading a few articles1 on the increase of depression linked to social media usage and especially to the lack of reality presented through online personas, both celebrities and general public2. How could the use of CubeSat encryption help generate a new and more open social media? The third insight was inspired by the recent surveillance laws in the Uk3, well at the same time there is a growing distrust of politicians. Would there be some way to turn the tables on government using private CubeSats, in order to rebuild trust and understanding between the electorate and elected. These broad starting points gave me a lot to play with but I chose to hone in on the lack of reality on social media, as this is an issue that I believe has become quite apparent in not only young mental health but also through the way we engaged in politics during both Brexit and The US elections.

Left: Initial research directions Right: Initial design opportunities identified

Creating Alternative Nows during Santini Basra’s Workshop






1. Jennycam 2. Controllable Robot4 3. State CCTV 4. Big Brother 5. Live Streaming Apps5 6. Youtube Vloggers6 7. Facebook

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4. https://www.reddit.com/r/robotics/ comments/3b4tgn/i_made_a_really_ crappy_robot_anyone_can_control/?sort=old 5. https://www.periscope.tv/ 6. https://www.youtube.com/user/ caseyneistat 7. https://www.youtube.com/user/ PewDiePie 8. https://gimletmedia.com/ episode/5-the-jennicam/

Honing In EXPLORING THE NOTIONS OF EMPIRE AND POST EMPIRE WITH RESPECT TO SOCIAL MEDIA AND ONLINE PERSONAS After deciding to look deeper at how we often filter our life in an attempt to portray ourselves in an acceptable manner, I stumbled across the notion of Empire. A idea originally explored in Bret Easton Ellis’ “Less Then Zero” about how celebrity culture is filtered and fake in an attempt to stay brandable. A key example of this is Jimmy Fallen, who will joke around with Trump on his show and in the next minute make jokes about him at the Golden Globes. I feel that this notion of Empire can be applied very easily to how we approach social media today. It can be seen in the way we filter our opinions when we post, or in the way we pose for photos. This results in most people’s Facebook pages becoming a homogeneous set of peoples highlights. With this in mind I chose to explore a few different examples on a scale of highly filtered platforms like facebook, to highly unfiltered platforms such as lifecasting. One key example I found on the highly filtered end of the scale was Youtube Vloggers. Highly visible online personalities reduce each day of their life to 10 minutes of video, often showing only the best and most ‘empire’ parts of their day. This notion is currently being questioned by some Youtube celebrities like

PewDiePie7, who feel like this filtered view is giving young viewers unattainable aspirations. On the other end of the scale we have people like Jennifer Ringley from JenniCam who started live-streaming her life through webcams from 1996–2003. She showed all aspects of her life; from working at her computer to kissing her boyfriend. She completely ignored the webcam - choosing to leave it on 24/7 rather then filter moments of her life by turning it off or covering it. W listening to a podcast ‘Reply All’8 I stumbled across a quote that summed up the value of JenniCam’s “post-empire” openness; “I was in my dorm room Saturday night doing laundry. I was a nerd! And I got an email from someone who said ‘I’m doing laundry too and I just looked and saw that you’re doing laundry on Saturday night. It’s funny cuz I felt like a loser. I’m sitting at home doing laundry on Saturday night, but I saw you are too! So now I don’t feel so Bad. hat kind of just did it for me. I was glad to hear that somehow I gave somebody permission to just be themselves and to be ok with that.” It was this notion that I wanted to base my alternative now on; empathy through the notion of “post-empire”. Mapping out different examples of people showing parts of their lives online and in the media


Initial Idea APPLYING CUBESAT TECHNOLOGY TO THE IDEA OF CREATING EMPATHY BETWEEN STRANGERS VIA NEW ‘POST-EMPIRE’ SOCIAL MEDIA After taking a long time to find an angle in this project that interested me I set about finding how I could apply CubeSat technology to this problem. I explored a few ideas ranging from very literal like using speakers and microphones to take audio from one room and play it in a strangers room, to a more abstract concept: taking the footsteps of one room and playing them in another room, in order to not feel alone. The idea was to create links with other people’s homes in order to see/hear intimate moments of a strangers life. However, as it might seem obvious by now, CubeSats were not at the front and centre of my design, they were being brought out the draw last minute and hence were being used as replacement for the internet. I had involved CubeSats in my project in the same way you would let a small child help out with cooking dinner. Hence I feel my initial concepts were nothing more than idealist and hadn’t really managed to grasp the potential of the insight I was exploring.


A quick sketch of my initial design concept



9. https://www.amazon.co.uk/ Sticky-Wisdom-Dave-Allan/ dp/1841120219

DEVELOPING NEW CONCEPTS WITH CUBESATS BUILT IN FROM THE BEGINNING After realising that I needed to explore my idea further in order to find concepts that actually worked with CubeSats, I decided to do some quick workshopping. Along with Marwa, who was exploring a similar theme, we went around university with a big board and asked people to tell us what parts of people’s lives they were interested in. We separated this question into 4 sections, asking people, “If you could find out something about people, what would it be?” focusing on: family, friends, strangers and celebrities. What we discovered was that with the exception of celebrities, people were often interested in just gaining a better understanding of peoples’ thought process and inner feelings. Questions like “Did they wash their hands today?” were overshadowed by more deep question like, “Where are they going and why?” The consensus from the workshop was that people wanted to build more empathetic understanding of family, friends and strangers alike. However, predictably people treated celebreties as aliens, asking about their daily routines, in attempt to find out if celebrities are real people.


After this workshop I took my original alternative statement about empathy through the notion of ‘Post-Empire” and used What If! Innovation’s 4Rs10 method to breakdown the statement in order to create new insights. The result of this was an exploration of the antithetical social media built on an unfiltered reality. The third prong to this development was to explore the possibility of CubeSats more; one of the things that stood out to me was the way they could connect two devices without storing data, a sort of closed loop a contrast to the way the internet hoards data. Could this notion of temporariness enable people to be more open with out the threat of things they post coming back haunt them. With all this in mind I set out to design a new kind of social media built on CubeSats that would show normal life rather then a highlight real. Even though I would end up with similar ideas to before, I feel like the new concepts I came up with were more logical and found methodologically rather then brought out of thin air.

Subverting the traditional troops of social media in order to reinvent it with CubeSats

Marwa bothering some busy Master students in order to gain insights in our workshop



Concept 1 - Time Zone Radio

Concept 2 - The Satellite Family


Concept 3 - Walking Down The Street

I knew early on that due to the limitations of upload speed on CubeSats that in order to live stream moments from people’s lives I would have to rely on audio alone. This did not worry me due the fact voices and noise are very real glimpse of life. This can be seen in the way podcasts have become a very popular medium for first person storytelling. So with that in mind I explored 3 new concepts using sound collected from peoples lives and then broadcast into other peoples lives. The first concept (left) was based around a constellation of CubeSats picking up moments of peoples days from all around the world. The listener could then tune the radio to different times of day and the CubeSat above the correct time-zone would broadcast sounds and noise from below it. This concept would be very expensive to do due to the need of having over 200 CubeSats to gain global coverage - It would allow for an amount of filtering that I felt went against the ethos behind my initial motive. The second concept (top right) was an idea of there being 24 hours in the day and there for 24 people in your satellite family. Each member of this family would have a microphone attached to them that would be broadcasting all the time. However, only one person from the satellite family would be able to hear it for each hour of the day. I liked the idea of someone turning on their CubeSat radio on at 5 to tune into x and y’s life for an hour. I also like how mutual this would be, with everyone sharing all the time and forming a close nit, symbiotic satellite family - however this would require a huge constellation of CubeSats and would be infeasible. The last concept (bottom right) was based on putting out many CubeSat connected microphones into the world and then have one CubeSat rotating around the world only picking up the broadcast from the nearest microphone, picking up bits of peoples lives like a person walking down the street picks up moments of conversation. These would then be broadcast for anyone to hear through a radio like device. It would become a sort of ambient social media made up of mainly mundanity but redeemed by moments of clear unadulterated insight into strangers lives. This is the idea I ended up developing due to it only needing a few CubeSats and therefore being the most feasible concept.


The Aesthetic TRYING TO CREATE A VISUAL LANGUAGE THAT WOULD JUSTIFY THE COST AND ALSO HELP SYMBOLISE THE IDEA After deciding on a concept and developing the idea further I realised that my design would have to tackle three problems aesthetically. The first would be that even with only a few satellites, this service would cost a lot of money and hence would have to look the part and sit nicely on a shelf with Bang & Olufsen products. Secondly it would have to fit into the same sort of place as a usual radio. This was due to the fact that with any sort of ambient audio piece, I feel it would be used in the background and the same way you turn up the radio when you hear a good song, you would turn up this audio stream when you could hear something interesting. The third aesthetic consideration with this product was that it should somehow convey the path of the CubeSat, so that when the CubeSat passed over deserts or oceans you would still know the radio was on and that the Satellite was still searching for microphones to broadcast.



Exploring two very safe design concepts based of simply radio aesthetics but replacing the frequency range with the CubeSat path

This model was of my initial concept looking at how you could tune a CubeSat radio to times on a clock.

A more bold aesthetic using a spinning cone speaker that traces the path of the CubeSat

Looking at different sizes and proportions for the device, so that it would look at home on a shelf


Exploring different materials for both the microphones and for the speaker

Testing Microphone models on people to see if they are natural enough to be warn on a daily basis


The Service CONNECTING THE MICROPHONES AND THE SPEAKERS USING CUBESATS UNDER THE NAME OF OVERT NOISE Whilst experimenting with models and forms for the project, I also played around with names for this service: I settled on Overt Noise due to the nature of the service being a constant stream of unconcealed or filtered noise of human life. With this new name, I also started ironing out how the service would be financed and work using CubeSat technology. As mentioned previously the project is set in the near future when CubeSats have become cheaper and the instruments needed to communicate with them have become smaller due to Moore’s Law. There are two touchpoints of the project, The Overt Noise Listeners, a set of minimal jewellery pieces each equipped with a microphone and radio transmitter. The second touchpoint is the Overt Noise Speaker which plays audio transmitted by Overt Noise Listener. However, only Listeners directly under the CubeSat will transmit, with CubeSat rotating around the world and picking up bits of Peoples lives like a person walking down the street picks up moments of conversation. All of the communication between the touchpoints is done through radio waves on the CubeSats, with the system working as a closed loop, with no storing of audio or personal information. The Overt Noise system would be financed by the sales of Speakers and the Listeners would be given out for free by promoters for the brand. Hence the Speaker has a high-end aesthetic and becomes a sort of sculpture as it


traces the path of the satellite on a sandy base. By buying a Speaker you would be relying on Overt Noise to keep proving Microphones to the public and replacing CubeSats as they deorbited. I realised that to make this a viable concept I would have to use a small constellation of CubeSats, with one CubeSat being the main hub. It is this main CubeSat that would be the clock for the system, choosing from Overt Listeners beneath it and completing one full rotation every hour and half. I think this is the part of the project that I am least happy with - I got so stuck into how to make this a viable product that I completely lost one of the key pillars I had built the project on. By making the system two parts with listeners and speakers, I had created a one way relationship and lost a big portion of the empathy I wanted to inspire through connecting strangers. With my current system I had separated people into two sets; people who broadcast and people who listened. This speaker is aimed at the kind of people who enjoy taking their headphones of at a cafe to hear life around them, and don’t enjoy the infinite scrolling of Facebook. However, the Listener seems to only appeal to people who are already extroverted and want to be part of an almost live art project. In hindsight I would have created a service where everyone involved to both a listener and broadcaster in equal measure creating a symbiotic relationship between all involved.











Jane has always been an avid Instagrammer, so was interested in the concept of an ambient social media.

Jane gets given an Overt Noise Speaker for free by a promoter from Overt Noise



She was excited after looking it up online and wanting to be part of something new and different


John has moved to a new city and feeling a bit isolated and alone

John goes onto Facebook to fill the boring hours of the day but is left unsatisfied



He heard about Overt Noise Speaker on a design blog and was interested in the closeness it might give, so orders one online

Jane starts wearing the Overt Noise Listener as she likes the design

Starts listening to the Overt Noise Speaker, and often hears nothing more then the Speaker turning

Jane likes the idea that someone is watching over her, so that she never feels fully alone

As more people start using Overt Noise Listeners, John hears more and more snippets of life underneath the Satellite

Jane has gone back to her family home and is currently arguing with her parents about her plans for the future.

An Overt Noise Satellite passes right above Jane and her Listener starts to broadcast

Jane laughs as she thinks that someone had to hear that awful conversation She wonders if other people have conversations like this, and decides to get an Overt Noise Speaker

John has settled into his favourite chair to read his book, while the Overt Noise Speaker turns behind him

John’s ears prick up as he hears the all too familiar conversation of a family argument.

He smiles to himself, glad he isn’t the only one who has parental issues John decides he doesn’t want a one way relationship with Overt Noise, he starts wearing his Overt Noise Listener

“Jane laughs as she thinks that someone had to hear that awful conversation”

“John has settled into his favourite chair to read his book, while the Overt Noise Speaker turns behind him”


Final Design CREATING A MODEL TO GIVE A FOCAL POINT TO QUITE A CONCEPTUAL IDEA After experimenting with form and learning about the concept through model making, I settled on a sculptural aesthetic, that still wouldn’t look out of place on a shelf next to an Ikea plant. I worked on both the Overt Noise Speaker and Overt Noise Listener simultaneously, making sure they both featured a strong visual aesthetic of copper, steal and black acoustic fabric. The Speaker was built as a kinetic piece with the point of the speaker cone tracing a circle in black sand, in sync with the main CubeSat as it circled the earth in space. This would hopefully look nice but would also be an indicter to the user that the Speaker was on, due to it having no buttons. While the Speaker was intended to make a statement, the Overt Noise Listener was intended to fade into any outfit and not stand out like most audio recording equipment. I wanted it be as seamless as the Apple Earpod, but also attractive enough for some one to wear daily. Hence I took the Copper and form of the Speaker and created a set of 3 unisex jewellery pieces that looked like any other jewellery other then the wind shield at the bottom which houses the microphone. Over all I was really happy that I was able to produce good appearance models for this project. However, I do think the time spent planning, building and most importantly committing to these models harmed my overall service proposal. To communicate these models and the how the service would feel to use, I created a short video trailer for the Overt Noise Brand and created a longer audio only piece, to show observers what experiencing Overt Noise would be like. I chose to create a longer audio piece to work as my storyboard, by giving the observer an actual sense of what it feels to overhear human life in the way someone using the service would feel. I feel this is more appropriate then telling the observer what someone would feel when listening to the service.


The Overt Noise Listener in earring form.

The internals of the Overt Noise Listener





The Overt Noise Listener in necklace form.

The Overt Noise Listener in badge form.



The Overt Noise Speaker tracing the path of the CubeSat in sand

The Overt Noise Speaker internals



The Overt Noise Logo and Poster

Last Thoughts To be quite honest I went into this project with an awful mindset, it seemed like another project with big buzzwordy technology collaboration and not much tangible application. I didn’t want to be forced to work with a technology, I wanted to design with freedom and then realise that satellites fit well with my concept so I should use them. Hence I was thrilled when we were told to put the CubeSats into the back of our minds for the beginning of the project and apply them later. As shown in this PPJ I seized this idea a bit too heavily and completely ignored them until week 3 presentations, when I just tacked them onto my Idea. This meant that I not only used them badly but also had a body of research that I needed to reorder with CubeSats front and centre in my mind. However, once I had put CubeSats and the brief of designing a viable service into the front of my mind my project ended up in a limbo between a conceptual critical design and a realistic service. The idea behind the whole project was to challenge the notion of what we find interesting in our own and other people’s lives. Do we really need to see more photos of your food, or your babies face, or you on holiday? Or are we more interested in that argument you had with your mum or the time when you were doing your washing on a Saturday? I designed Overt Noise with the ethos of believing that to build empathy, we need to break the tradition of “Empire” and embrace the shared frailty and mundaneness of human life. However, what I created was more of a one-way relationship between nosey wall flowers with money and extroverted people who most likely already flaunt their online lives. On a more optimistic note, I am really happy about how my experimentation and model making has come on throughout my time at GSA. However, in doing this project again I would have focused on creating a much more realistic proposal due to nature of the live project. This could have included having spaces rather then just people contribute audio, such things could have been set as Overt Noise Spaces. Although there were issues with my design proposal, I feel like the notion of Empire, Post-Empire and Empathy, are ideas I will return to when I design in the future.