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Students use technology to spark creativity

March 21, 2008

Most people would likely first look at “Archie” merely as a large stuffed-animal child’s toy. They would be so mistaken.

Archie is a soft, 6-foot-long blend of cotton and polyester fabric formed into a rough replica of a squid, with an elongated head and 10 tentacles. Embedded within are small electronic devices that make Archie something special: the Sensor Squid.

He is a tool to achieve what his makers call “tangible interface design,” “interactive tactile collaboration,” and “computer-human interaction,” all designed to enable “creativity interventions.”

Sensor Squid creators Becky Stern and Lisa Tolentino are among the first class of several students in a new media arts and sciences doctoral degree program. The degree is offered through Arts, Media & Engineering (AME), a joint program of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering and the Herberger College of the Arts.

Archie – the name is based loosely on the genus name for a giant squid – was conceived by Stern and Tolentino as a device to spark playful collaboration and thoughtful communication among teams of AME students.

He essentially is a wireless input device that allows students to collectively operate a computer by using various control functions embedded in different tentacles.

“It’s like a shared computer mouse that several people can use together, rather than one person at a time,” Stern says. “Nobody has complete control, so it makes us develop working relationships and learn team decision-making.”

The AME students are using Archie to keep each other updated on their various research projects.

To use the Sensor Squid, “people have to get close and hold this soft, plush object,” Tolentino says. “It shapes the whole group working environment. It’s different from people sitting apart with their own laptops. It’s friendlier. It builds cooperative relationships.”

Stern and Tolentino see Archie as a first step in an evolution toward realizing one of key the goals emphasized in the AME program: making technology people-friendly.

“We want to build tools that will help people become more educated about and comfortable with all the information technology in our lives today,” Tolentino says.

Stern came to ASU after earning a bachelor’s degree in design and technology from the Parsons the New School for Design in New York.

Tolentino has an undergraduate degree in computer science and a master’s degree in contemporary music performance from the University of California-San Diego.

They are part of the Reflective Living Group at AME. The research group’s goal is to develop media technology environments that provide resources for increasing community awareness and sparking constructive social interaction and creativity.