1st Makers Session at the Labs

We mentioned it earlier, but it deserves a post of its own: we held our first Makers Session last week, in our Euston office!

Building, testing, experimenting, trying things out, and now making, that’s mainly what we do for a living at the Labs. After all, we’re about embracing the latest techs and exploring how those can be used in a news context, aren’t we?

The event was put together by Melanie Moeller, and she deserves loud cheers for its success. She’s reponsible for pushing forward our experimentations with Google Glass and other gadgets, and for convincing us that this event should take place.

“We ought to create an environment that with simple means empowers people to do big things” - Mel

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The theme of this first session was “Make a Wearable: Explore the future of news-gathering and storytelling by embedding digital behaviour into everyday objects.”

The three-hour session introduced the Arduino and some basic sensors and actuators. It involved creative brainstorming and ideating around News and wearables gadgets.

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Results time!

Participants gathered in five different teams to produce… Five prototypes!

‘The BBC News Hat’

MyBBC invented a revolutionary hat, featuring a display for breaking news, built-in weather sensors, and a chicken at the top to indicate wind direction. The team pitched the potential to capture weather data through the sensors, which would allow a much more accurate coverage. Transforming your audiences into human weather stations, anyone?

‘The Digital Prayer Card’

The Data Analysts team created a tool which MPs could use to scan in when they arrive at the Commons to be able to save their seat. As we know, there are only 427 seats in the Commons chamber, but 464 MPs. The new gadget is the digital equivalent of the prayer card. As soon as an MP scans in, the LED display shows ‘occupied’. The team also suggested adding a notification that allows MPs to reserve their seat before the prayer starts. This system would capture information such as what time of the day MPs have swiped in and would enable audiences to track whether their local MP is doing his/her job properly. Alternatively, a notification could be sent to audiences via the News app so members of the public know when their local MP swiped in. A pressure sensor in the seat could also detect if an MP is actually sitting in it.

‘The Checking Glove’

Visual Journalism came up with the idea of a glove that confirms if you have everything that you need when you leave the house such as your travel card, house keys, etc. If all items are in the expected place and the glove has done the check a green light indicates that you are ready to commute to work. This simple but effective gadget uses an RFID reader for a contactless quick check ‘on the go’.

‘The Wallet Glove’

News Labs also worked on a glove, which uses a RFID system that allows you to use your glove as an Oyster or a credit card. The glove also features a screen that gives you information about delays on tube lines or a special offer at your local supermarket.

‘The Socks Matcher’

UCL invented a great assistive piece of technology that enables visually impaired people to easily find a matching pair of socks. A sound is generated when a pair is being matched.

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Some context on the Maker movement

####Why making? The maker movement emerged as a reaction to the de-valuing of physical exploration, realising that creating should be an essential part of what we do.

Besides ‘making’ and ‘play’ the ‘Maker Movement Manifesto’ also lists the following principles: share, participate, tool up, play, change and learn

- Tool up “You must have access to the right tools for the project at hand.” For this session we provided low cost accessories such as socks, beanies and gloves as well as crafts materials. To be able to embed smart behaviour we also got a number of Arduinos.

- Learn – “You must learn to make.” An important part of ‘making’ is knowing how to use the tools. Therefore, the first session was a hands on Arduino prototyping workshop led by Becky Stewart (Codasign), who provided the participants with the necessary software and hardware skills.

- Share and Participate The event was also a great networking opportunity for staff from different departments across News and UCL researchers. This intends to break silos and to encourage collaboration between the different News teams and research and development.

- Change All of us are creative. Melanie identified a desire amongst her News colleagues to be able to voice ideas and an enthusiasm about participating in driving change and progress using our diverse skills.

Coming up next

The maker session received incredibly positive feedback.

The next one will take place in January 2015. Participants will be invited to explore ‘The Internet of Things’ and Mel is planning to organize a workshop that involves making with Raspberry Pis.

We would also love to hear your feedback and ideas for future maker session, so please email Mel at: Melanie.Moeller@bbc.co.uk.