Week 1: Getting into things

Hello, and welcome to a new semester! We’re ETC project team Amuseum (Amuse+Museum, get it?) and this semester we will be working with the MuseumLab at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh to create a Rube Goldberg inspired machine that incorporates AR into its processes to bring to life impossible elements from the cartoons that Rube Goldberg drew.

Our team is composed of Wizard Hsu, Adelyn Jin, Bella Lin, Hao Lu, and Jack McClain, and we’re all excited to get into it!

This week our primary focus was on getting ourselves grounded in the topic. In the early stages of the week we focused our efforts on collecting research materials about Rube Goldberg, his machines, what has been done in the space, applications of AR, and so on. Collecting all these resources helped to give us a shared sense of the problem space going forward and what it is that makes these machines unique: the engineering, the narrative, and the humor.

In order to set the stage for the project, we met with our contact at the Children’s Museum, Anne Fullenkamp, to get an understanding of what the most important elements of the project are for her moving forward. On the Children’s Museum side of the museum, the exhibit team has already developed a number of Rube Goldberg machines that are entirely physical. This portion of the museum is intended for their youngest audience, from 3-9. The MuseumLab, which we are working with, is intended to be the extension of interactive educational installations for an older audience of 10-15.

Anne described to us how the museum had pulled inspiration from Rube Goldberg’s original cartoons when designing their machines, and they felt that there was an opportunity for AR to be brought in to supplement the interactions.  Specifically, the machines in Goldberg’s cartoons frequently feature animal or human elements that are responsible for triggering parts of the machine. While they would create very engaging machines, having a live animal in a museum machine would be a non-starter, but this is one place that AR can help.

The installation that we will be working on for the museum will potentially be placed in a pop-up space that CMP is opening at Southside Works in a former retail space this summer. They are still currently in talks to set this up, but we need to consider this when planning out our design. Because it will be in a pop-up temporarily, or potentially not at all and move straight into the actual museum, we need to think about how to keep the design of the machine not context sensitive, meaning it does not NEED to be in either the pop-up or MuseumLab.

Already the museum is accustomed to using ARCADE for AR experiences within the lab, and have undergone some talks to bring in a similar system, ARENA, as another AR toolkit for them to develop exhibits in. ARENA is developed by the Conix Research Center at CMU, and is a web-based mixed-reality development platform with robust networking capabilities. While it is still being developed by the team, we have potential to work relatively closely with their team and get direct feedback and answers if any questions arise. We will be looking at all the possibilities for AR development available to us and weighing their pros and cons against each other, but the ARENA platform is an early top contender because of these benefits.

Next week we’ll be working on brainstorming and pitching some initial concepts to Anne and Toby, one of the primary exhibit designers for the Museum. We’ll also be looking to invite Jennifer George, Rube Goldberg’s granddaughter and current head of Rube Goldberg Inc. to talk through how we can best represent his work in our own.