React HUB objects sandbox logoStress-reducing stones, living taxidermy and ancient instruments resurrected: REACT Hub’s Object Sandbox is a program of unique projects looking towards the future of the internet of things.

By 2050, it’s estimated 50 billion objects will be connected to the internet, created using a new language of design which has been little explored until now. Where the relationship between form and function once determined design theory, user experience will become increasingly significant.

REACT Hub’s Object Sandbox explores how these new design concerns can take centre stage, as part of the organisation’s drive to bring together commercial and academic researchers in Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter. Using the same template as the Hub’s Heritage, Books & Print and Future Documentary Sandboxes, the program supports a series of shortlisted projects from REACT’s Ideas Lab events held in Cardiff, Bristol and Exeter in 2013.

Six teams consisting of academic and creative experts have been provided with advisory support and £50,000 funding, to take their ideas for connected devices from R&D through to business modelling.

Development for the 2014 series began in March, with projects including a touch-based storytelling device, intelligent museum-curation systems, jewellery for keeping fan-communities connected and an attempt to bring back life to the Ney, a long-forgotten Turkish wind instrument. We caught up with two of the teams to see where the program has taken them:

Breathing Stone

BreathingStone_sqA portable device for relieving stress, Breathing Stone takes its user’s pulse and generates a soothing audio track to mirror their heartbeat. The team developing the Stone include research staff from Bath University, composer Joseph Hyde and David Plans of Adaptive Media. Dr Paul Leonard told us how the project has developed:

“So far, we’ve created a prototype to convert ECG patterns to listenable music. Now we’re trying to get the prototype down to a size that’s fit for production. We’re also looking to swap the processor inside the Stone, from the Samsung board with a quad-core processor which we’re currently using to a FPGA or dual-arm core.

“These will be much cheaper for production – as will our bespoke audio-generator. One of the real challenges with the design has been perfecting sound in such a small platform. Once we’ve solved this, we can take the prototype to a hardware accelerator for production.”

We also asked what surprised Dr Leonard about the Sandbox series:

“In truth, the whole project surprised me! I went along to the Ideas Lab event interested in a completely different project. In the meantime, I had listed my interests as audio and visual, and David Plans [of Adaptive Media] contacted me to ask if I could join his team as an academic. I’m surprised and pleased by how closely the project mirrors my own interests – from using music to carving out bits of foam for the prototype!’


Reflector1Developed by creative agency Uniform and Professors Alex Bentley and Mark Horton, Reflector seeks to make historical museum objects more accessible by using connected devices to tell stories from the past. The Reflector team have been working closely with the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool to create technology to accompany collections at the museum. Creative Technologist Martin Skelly explains:

“Having developed a number of prototypes, we’ve taken our devices to schools to create ‘remote museums’. The Reflector device creates a physical experience by printing historical images, similar to a receipt. We’ve found that this kind of fragmented approach really appeals to students and allows a very visual means of storytelling.

“The devices also don’t have to be confined to one exhibit; schools could buy one of the devices and rent ‘remote museum’ programs from different institutions, like MoMA or the V&A. In this way, our focus has shifted to creating a remote experience – adaptable conversation-starters to get people to talk about history.”

On the future of the project, Martin says:

“There are a couple of options for Reflector in the long term. One thing Uniform works with is theatres, which could also benefit from the Reflector. After we’ve finished prototype-testing we’re hoping to get the device into more schools in Bristol.

“We’ve also shipped a prototype to St Helena, one of the historical slavery outposts, to see how successful the device works there. This testing will allow us to see whether support for the project is there, and whether we should seek buy-in from investors.”

Thanks go to Paul and Martin for taking the time to talk to us here at TechSPARK, and we wish them the best of luck with Breathing Stone and Reflector. Development for all six projects ended in June; to keep up to date with their achievements, follow @reacthub