Prototypes and Progress

Educational experiences using technological taxidermy. Play Nicely have been combining RFID tags with a reader, Raspberry Pi, breadboard and breako

Educational experiences using technological taxidermy.

Play Nicely have been combining RFID tags with a reader, Raspberry Pi, breadboard and breakout board to create a prototype for the Curpanion system (see Curpanion: The Story So Far blog post for what we are looking to achieve and how). Broadly there are 3 strands to the project:

Object - the solid ‘thing’ the user will carry around with them which will ‘activate’ the taxidermy exhibits and us to collect additional information on taxidermy specimens.

System - the RFID hardware and back end software which will enable the object to activate the exhibits and collect additional information.

Online - the website the user will go to to register their object, see their collection of unlocked content, the rewards they have collected and the online avatar of their object.


RFID reader detecting tag and playing a video


We are using an RFID reader, programmed to play a video once it detects an RFID tag. The video could just as easily be audio, static images or mechanical activation. The reader also logs which tag has connected, allowing us to use this interaction to unlock online rewards, such as videos and extra information for the user.

We originally developed two types of experience. In the first, the user would tap their Curpanion object onto the RFID reader to activate the video, which would then play for its full duration. In the second scenario the playing of the video was tied to the presence of the Curpanion object as opposed to just being triggered by it, so if a user removed their Curpanion the video would stop. The second way of working was deemed the best by our testers, as allowed the Curpanion object to become an intrinsic part of the exhibit, giving more control for the user.

We have since added visual feedback via LEDs at the point of activation, once the system detects a tag. This functionality will be important if there is no audio/visual material to activate, only information to collect. We have explored the concept of having LED lights appearing in different colours depending on unique history of any given curpanion object.


Museum merchandise with RFID Tags

In developing the form of the Curpanion object itself, we dismantled and dissected various pieces of museum gift shop merchandise so as to insert RFID tags into them. Through this we were able to quickly prototype how the user’s relationship with activating the video changes when the curpanion is small, large, soft, squishy etc.

Our current concept is to make the Curpanion object a 3D printed translucent/white plastic animal-esque creature. In this way at the point of activation lights in the sensor will illuminate the object. The potential exists for this colour to be driven by the type of exhibit activated i.e green for a jungle, yellow for a desert; or on the activity of the user i.e the colour of the LED could change every 50 exhibits seen - a visual identifier of an achievement system.

The object is important as a souvenir, and as a memento of multiple museum visits. We are in the process of developing ways a Curpanion object could change, depending on where it has been and what it has ‘seen’. We hope to develop uniquely shaped objects, directly tied to the results of the experiences of a user and their Curpanion.

We are imagining that a Curpanion object (bought ‘off the shelf’ from a selection in the ‘first instance’) to have an online avatar. Having a gorilla shaped Curpanion would be reflected in its online avatar’s appearance. This avatar would then change depending on exhibits activated by the object. For example, if a user began with a gorilla and activated lots of birds, few giraffes and some zebras, the Curpanion may take on some attributes of these animals; wings could grow, the neck elongates and stripes are acquired. The user could then choose to order a 3D print of their unique Curpanion at any point to become the ‘active’ Curpanion object.


Our next step is the most exciting yet as it involves testing our system in real world settings with taxidermy specimens and related audio/visual content. We have secured a number of taxidermy specimens from Bristol Zoo’s collection as well as animatronic taxidermy artworks. Working with these, through our Curpanion system we will be activating the animatronics and triggering audio/video experiences. But first, we’re looking forward to the third REACT workshop next wednesday.