Space Replace… the delayed echo of human activity

I guess it was just a matter of time before British artists would turn to The Prisoner for inspiration and revive the dreaded rover.

The incredible and terrifying piece, which, in the video above, is seen following people through a London subway station, recording and playing back their conversations, is the work of the Royal College of Art’s Francesco Tacchini, in collaboration with designers Julinka Ebhardt and Will Yates-Johnson. The following clip about the project, which is called Space Replace, is from their website.

A hovering object that explores and manipulates transitional public spaces with particular acoustic properties. By constantly recording and replaying these ambient sounds, the levitating sphere produces a delayed echo of human activity.

The sphere responds sonically to people and its surroundings by means of a battery-powered Arduino, an Adafruit Wave Shield hacked to record and playback audio on-the-fly and a small speaker. These were inserted into a latex balloon after being vacuum formed in plastic in the shape of a cone — in order to enhance the sound coming from the speaker and protect the balloon from the wires and PCB edges.

The balloon was filled with enough helium to be able to lift everything and hover, reaching its buoyancy point. The final and lightest prototype weights 120g, comprising of electronics, packaging and balloon.

They don’t address how the hovering object navigates, which leads me to believe that it doesn’t so much follow people, as the video would suggest, so much as hover in ares where people might be, but, regardless, this is one of the most beautiful and thoughtful responses to pervasive state monitoring that I’ve seen to date.

I hope whomever discovers the earth, long after us humans have gone the way of the dinosaur, are greeted by devices like this, ominously floating over the landscape, playing back sounds of long past events in our history.

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  1. Posted March 9, 2014 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

    And, yes, I realize that a helium balloon would likely not survive the end of mankind for more than a few days, but you get my point. I just love the idea that, ten thousand years from now, another species might be met by a device like the one above, playing audio of people reciting grocery lists and the like.

  2. Number 6
    Posted March 10, 2014 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    From the Wikipedia on the Rover:

    Rover was originally supposed to have been a robotic, wheeled device with a siren. It resembled a circular inflatable swimming pool topped with a black-and-white segmented dome. Although a prop was constructed, it did not work properly, and sank in the waters off Portmeirion during the initial stages of filming.

    The final version of Rover was inspired by a weather balloon seen above Portmeirion by production manager Bernard Williams. The balloon was dragged across the set with wires, with the wires and the attachment point sometimes being visible. Several approach scenes were filmed through the use of reversing a film of the balloon being towed away from the camera, although the balloon was often also filmed from the side being towed in direction of travel.

  3. Number 6
    Posted March 10, 2014 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    The Rover also appeared on the Simpsons.

  4. Eel
    Posted March 10, 2014 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    Have you heard about the Double? It’s an iPad strapped to something like a stripped down robotic Segway, that allows your boss to zip around your office when he’s away, staring at you from the little rectangular screen. I’d like it infinitely better if it were a Yes Men prank, but I think it’s real.

  5. anonymous
    Posted March 10, 2014 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    Imagine how paranoid some people would be if they were to encounter one if these. I’d love to put an Obama logo on one and push it through the door of one of Thayrone’s tea party gatherings.

  6. Erik Grimes
    Posted March 13, 2014 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    This is why I carry a hat pin in my boot.

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