Curpanion: The story so far...

Although taxidermy displays are often popular at museums, and each specimen contains a wealth of stories, displays are static and engagement is often

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http://www.react-hub.org.uk/objects-sandbox/projects/2014/curpanion/jour...

The Concept:

Our project aims to breathe new life into old taxidermy mounts and displays by prototyping an internet-connected personalized curatorial device: the ‘Curpanion’. Although taxidermy displays are often popular at museums, and each specimen contains a wealth of stories, displays are static and engagement is often one-dimensional. Curpanion technology aims to break free from the constraints of traditional display and interaction by enabling the user to unlock augmented taxidermy exhibits onsite whilst also creating their very own online menagerie of amazing animals. Imagined as a much-loved toy or keepsake, we aim to prototype the Curpanion as a 'pocket beastie' which the user takes to the museum and uses to unlock, build and document shared experiences and stories.

The long-term goal of the project is for users to be able take their Curpanion to any cultural (or related) institution and collect content for their bespoke online collections, reflecting their changing interests over time and place. By empowering users to collect, explore and share content related to any museum object, our project aims to extend the educational and affective scope of the museum into the lives of users, creating life-long personalized museum experiences through the 'internet of things'.

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Image: Curpanion Vending machine/Play Nicely


How it (provisionally!) works:

Currently we are thinking that the ‘Curpanion’ will contain a RFID chip enabling users to ‘tap-in’ to a specific exhibit location. In turn each exhibit location will have a sensor (containing notepad sized RFID and ‘Rasberry Pi’) which enables the Curpanion to activate diorama animations and register a visit.

Each ‘tap-in’ is recorded online against the Curpanion’s unique ID which allows the user to view where they’ve been, the objects they have viewed and unlock associated content, enabling them to curate their online ‘menagerie’ of amazing animals and beautiful beasts.

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Image: Rasberry Pi/Play Nicely

Why the Curpanion?

Not everyone visiting museums (especially young children) has a phone nor wants to augment their onsite experience through a screen. The Curpanion, as an activation and curatorial device, aims to break free from these constraints by enabling any user to activate exhibits onsite whilst also curating a bespoke online collection they can interact with at their leisure. The Curpanion thus comes to be a 'companionable object' which the user builds and uses to document shared experiences.

The Curpanion Object:

Conceived as a much-loved toy or keepsake, we will design a range of ‘skins’ to encase the RFID chip in. These could be designed to reflect the most popular taxidermy animals at a given collection. However, we are keen to emphasise the playful affordances of our Curpanion object and so are also considering how users might design and 3D print their own skins to enhance the life/personality of their Curpanion and their affective relationship with it.

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Image: Keyring Skin/Play Nicely

Global Application:

We envisage that the technology designed in and around the Curpanion will be globally replicable, enabling any museum to use and install Curpanion technology and upload content to our server so that users could potentially curate a personalized collection of objects from museums worldwide. Thus the long-term goal of this project is for users to be able to take their Curpanion to any cultural (or related) institution and unlock and curate content for their bespoke online collections, reflecting their changing interests over time and place.

Audience/Market:

While our initial project is aimed at younger musuem visitors, the global replicability of our design means that as more museums order Curpanion technology and host content on our server, we can aim at multiple audiences and age-groups, e.g. an art student could curate their own art collection for further study, a retiree could curate a collection around their varied interests.

Our project also aims to address three major issues regarding museum audiences:

By empowering users to collect, explore and share content related to museum objects on the Curpanion online server, our project extends the educational and affective scope of the museum into the lives of users, creating a personalized museum ‘without walls’ (Kuflik et al).

The server will be designed to enable museums to curate their own online content on our server and thus holds the potential for cultural institutions to foster a dialogue with their visitors and encourage repeat visits: e.g. “Visit Alfred the Gorilla one more time this month to unlock this amazing archive footage of him at Bristol Zoo!”

Curpanion ‘tap-ins’ could also create an 'activity database' for the museum, quantifying visits to objects/displays and enabling museums to understand visitor preferences. This way museums could create content and achievements targeted at age-groups and interests. However, t here are obvious data-protection issues related to this aspect of the technology that we will need to be sensitive to during the prototyping.

Our Research Questions Moving Forward:

How can we utilise internet-connected objects to break free from the constraints
of traditional taxidermy (and museum) displays?

How do we ‘custom design’ a RFID-fitted object, to explore a new form
of companion species curation?

How do we make our prototypes flexible enough to ‘curpanionise’ cultural institutions worldwide?

We are excited to explore these questions and experiment with the playful affordances our prototype during the R&D phase of the project!


Team Curpanion

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