Interview: James Miller, Creative Technologist for Kerve – the agency using cutting-edge tech creatively

Meet the man who's part of the team responsible for creating mind-controlled cars and huge hand-shaped car crushers you can control from home
3rd December 2015

Wouldn’t it be great if your job was to dream up and make a reality ideas like car-crushing robots shaped like a hand that people could control from their homes and use to relieve their tensions by squeezing the life out of a real car when they are feeling stressed? Or how about a mind-controlled car for people to drive around race tracks by just thinking ‘left’ or ‘right’?

James Miller KerveWell, for James Miller (pictured right) and the rest of the creative team working at Bath-Based Kerve, that’s the day job.

Kerve is a creative agency that goes out of its way to create impressive campaigns and stunts to help major brands get their message across, and as creative technologist it’s James job to work with the team to bring those crazy ideas into existence. We caught up with James to find out what his day job entails, what he and Kerve have been doing recently and how people can get to do what he does.

TechSPARK: What is your background and how did you get involved with Kerve?

JM: I studied Interactive Design at the University of Lincoln where I made a variety of tech projects including building a wooden record vinyl and an interactive teacup installation. I got in contact with Kerve after finding some of their crazy work online, and it wasn’t long till I started working there!

TS: What is a creative technologist?

JM: Simply put, it is a creative who can use technology as a tool to communicate a message. In marketing this translates to using innovative technologies to create interactive activations for brand campaigns. A lot of the ideas/prototypes a creative technologist might come up with may sound a bit left field, but making innovation happen is an important part of the role.

TS: What have been some of Kerve’s most impressive tech creations?

JM: The project I was most excited to be involved with was a mind controlled car that we made for a moneysupermarket.com campaign. Following the introduction of telematics boxes into their insuree’s cars, their campaign was about how smarter drivers get cheaper car insurance.

“We could train people how to use their brains to accelerate and turn the car left/right”

 

Using EEG headset sensors, we were able to program software that understood differences in brain activity. This meant that we could then train people how to use their brains to accelerate and turn the car left/right.

This mind-controlled car followed on from the giant car-crushing robot arm we built for Moneysupermarket last year. Moneysupermarket wanted an epic demonstration of how they crush car insurance quotes. We got the idea after Dom, our MD, saw Arcadia’s robot spider at Glastonbury which had arms crushing and throwing cars. We got in touch with them and hooked up a live stream, so that customers could crush cars in real time.

Other really exciting projects that we’ve worked on involve a virtual reality tour experience for Meantime Brewery and an installation that turns tweets into smells. Our website is currently getting a makeover, but all our new work will be available to see on the Kerve website early next year.

TS: Do you have any fun projects coming up?

JM: We have a few R&D projects that we are working on, one of which we are turning into a Christmas gift for our clients. We post some of our experiments and trials on our Instagram account but as our work is for commercial clients we have to keep most things under wraps until campaigns go live. Keep an eye on our Twitter feed for announcements!

kerve-instagram

Sneak peek: You can often see the Kerve projects currently
in development on Kerve’s Instagram account.

TS: If someone wants to do what you do, do you have any advice for them?

Learn as much as you can, as quick as you can! There are so many exciting pieces of tech out there that are just waiting to be made into something amazing, get playing!

TS: How do you find being based in Bath?

JM: Well I walk past the Royal Crescent every day on the way to work, so I think I can safely say that I have an awesome commute! It’s a beautiful place to live and the area is full of friendly people.

“There are tons of tech focussed events in Bath and Bristol to keep you inspired”

 

TS: Do you or Kerve get involved with any tech events in the area?

JM: I’m very involved in the tech networking scene here and there are tons of tech focussed events in Bath and Bristol to keep you inspired. My favourite so far has been Bristech, which was held at the science museum in Bristol – I’d definitely recommend attending the next big conference. Other members of the team attend SWmobile, BristolJS, PHPSW, BathSPARK and Bristol Bath Marketing Network meetings, and we try to get down to hack days when we’re not busy with work.

TS: Are you impressed by any other tech companies in Bristol or Bath?

JM: The area is full of good tech companies. The ones I find most interesting at the moment are Zoetrope (who work with the Internet of Things), Blispa (who use bluetooth beacons for city and museum tours) and Understory (a startup exploring how technology can be used to enhance the eating experience). There sure is a lot of crazy cool things happening out here in the wild west of the UK!

We’d like to thank James for taking time out of his busy schedule to talk to us. You can see more of his work at the Kerve website (and if you want to see what Kerve can do for you, or have some fun tech the agency may want to use, I know James will be keen to hear from you!) and you can keep up with their latest creations by following them on Twitter: @kervecreative. And don’t forget you can follow us there too! @TechSPARKuk