Having Fun With An Augmented Flight Simulator

Prototyping the Future

The Challenge | To inspire digital first designers to think about hardware prototyping.

The Outcome | A simple installation that got people excited about this topic.

When & Where | Early 2016 at Virtual Identity

Should Designers … Code?

The things around us are getting smarter every day. Amazon Dash, Alphabets Nest or Google Home are just the first indicators for this new wave of products that will change our lives.
If we as designers still want to be able to have a big influence on the experiences of these products we need to cope with the new challenges that are facing us.
One of those would be to cross the border between the design of digital and physical products. That doesn’t mean that every digital designer needs to study industrial design and vice versa but it definitely helps to have a mutual understanding of how these different fields work and how they correlate.

One of the big questions in this context is to ask: what is doable? 
There isn’t an easy answer to this question that’s why we need to make our physical and digital combined products experienceable and there is no better way to do this than by creating prototypes for our interactive visions. A lot of designers might fear that they need a broad programming knowledge or a lot of experience in electrical engineering to create such prototypes.
The truth is tough that it much easier than a lot of designer expect it to be. Great platforms like Arduino and Processing help us as designers to explore, communicate and test those interactive experiences.

Fascination Microcontrollers And Code

I’m fascinated about the possibilities that hardware prototyping tools make possible today especially because I’m not a great coder nor the best with electronics.
In early 2016 my big task was to transport this excitement to a bunch of digital first designers and to get them hooked to join a small hardware prototyping workshop I prepared. For this purpose I created the Augmented Flight Simulator (AFS). It is a small installation that helps to show the simplicity and potential of hardware prototyping and thats why the AFS only consists out of simple parts like an Arduino, a servomotor, a potentiometer, one of these old styrofoam airplanes, some nylon thread, wood and a small amount of code.

The Analog Part …

One of the first projects every Arduino beginner starts with is controlling a servomotor. That is why it is also one of the main part of the AFS. The servomotor is connected to the tail of the airplane through a nylon thread and the potentiometer helps to determine the positions of the servomotor. So, the “pilot” is using the potentiometer to define the plane’s pitch.

… The Digital Part

The physical part of the AFS is in front of a screen that shows a polygonal world that passes by. This world is also connected to the input of the potentiometer and moves up and down with it. Every object that is passing by is generated randomly and moves on its own speed and layer. This helps to enhance the story and creates a much better orientation while flying.

Keep It Simple

The AFS tells a simple story with simple parts and is mainly influenced by the physical interaction. The size as well as the story are highly scalable and exchangeable.
 This prototype helps to explore and test for example different input methods quickly. You can exchange the potentiometer easily for a proximity sensor or even a Leap Motion and watch the people reactions while they are playing with it.

Finally, the Augmented Flight Simulator was a great project that got a lot of attention and helped to get designers excited about this topic.

Now I’m super excited to hear your story about how we should design the future . Let me know what you think.