On January 21st 2009, our team was sent into the lab with a mission: to construct a device that was highly moral. We had previously talked about this concept of morality in class and discussed readings from previous weeks. We were comfortable with programming and designing with Arduino, we had a range of tools to use, and a wide variety of background knowledge and experience to draw from. We thought we were destined for greatness.
We failed. At the end of the lab, the class showed off their designs, including a functioning stoplight and a posture corrector. We had nothing to show but some weird half-ideas and a bunch of semi-completed circuits. So what happened?
Well, our brainstorming session was all over the place. No one idea emerged from the pack, so we decided to start building and see where we ended up (mistake #1?). We spent some time looking around the lab for cool little components we might want to include… we found a knock sensor that looked promising and decided to build around that (mistake #2?). Finally, we couldn’t agree on the defenition of morality (mistake #3?). Was a device with no output moral? How about a device that had no input or output? What about a re-purposed device?
Because we didn’t have a clear goal, we weren’t able to subdivide the tasks in the group (mistake #4). We also still weren’t sure what we were building, but started to lean towards a ‘wife-beater detector.’ Yeah. Ummm… yeah. The idea was that the knock sensor would be able to distinguish between love taps and wife beating, and would display a message on the screen if the threshold of wife beating was passed. Probably not very practical (knock sensors all over the body?), but it met all sorts of criteria for ‘highly moral device’ and we were running out of time.
We didn’t get there. We got the code and circuit working, but it wasn’t really what we had intended (and looked suspiciously like what we had done the previous week in the lab). Here it is in all it’s glory:
In truth, some of the things listed above may not be mistakes. The push-pull between materials and potential ideas (from mistake 2) is a characteristic of this kind of work; it could be viewed as a necessity, or even an positive. And clearly discussing the concept of morality in devices (mistake 4) was part of the point of the lab. So, while we may not have produced a finished physical product, we did analyse/discuss/think/argue/learn. Couldn’t the whole experience could be viewed as design-oriented research?
Yeah, I think we’ll go with that.