Tellart & Google Creative Lab
Chrome Web Lab
Google & The London Science Museum
Chrome Web Lab
Chrome Web Lab
Web Lab is a groundbreaking, year-long exhibition, featuring a series of interactive Chrome Experiments that bring the extraordinary workings of the internet to life. Visitors to Science Museum (London) play and learn collaboratively with online visitors through controlling physical machines, in what is truly a global museum exhibit.
Web Lab Experiments:
Universal Orchestra: An Internet-powered orchestra creating harmonious music
Sketchbots: Custom-built robots that sketch portraits in sand
Data Tracer: Revealing where the world’s online information is physically stored
Teleporter: Web-enabled periscopes allowing instant access to the world
Lab Tag Explorer: A visualisation of all Web Lab visitors around the globe
The internet is incredible. It powers our lives everyday. It allows us to explore the globe. It lets us communicate with friends the world over. It gives us access to infinite information. But all this magic stays locked behind screens. The web has evolved from simple text pages to rich, interactive applications and experiences. Google developed Chrome from the ground up as a browser for this modern web. Chrome’s aim is to spur on innovation amongst all browsers, allowing everybody to experience the full potential of the web. With Web Lab, we wanted to bring the power of Chrome to life in a tangible way and inspire the next generation of computer scientists.
Web Lab is the first major museum exhibition to integrate in-museum and online visitors with equal measure. The goal of Web Lab is to showcase the incredible–yet often invisible–workings of the modern internet. The major design opportunity was to create a synthesized physical and virtual (in-museum and online) experience where people could share a sense of social presence and collaborate on creative activities while learning about how the web works.
Web Lab reaches an audience of all age groups, everywhere in the world. Annual traffic for a science museum exhibition can reach the high hundreds of thousands of visitors; Web Lab’s goal was to extend this to millions by integrating an online, remote control, collaborative experience. It also allows Science Museum to extend audience engagement as visitors continue to experiment after returning home.3. The Intent: What point of view did you bring to the project, and were there additional criteria that you added to the brief?
An installation of this scale and complexity will necessarily result in design challenges that need to be addressed and embraced as the basis for innovation. Tellart, Google Creative Lab and their design partners were faced with a variety of constraints related to many facets of the project.
The international audience of tourists and thousands of yearly school groups makes London Science Museum the perfect venue for this exhibition; it also meant that the physical experiments needed to be built for extremely high throughput and heavy hands-on use. The website needed to provide creative queueing solutions to manage the extremely large number of online visitors using a limited set of in-museum physical experiments. Enabling high levels of both personalization and privacy for visitors in-museum and online provided a multitude of design constraints and lead to significant user-experience design innovations.
As with most projects of this scale, the final execution was informed by the viewpoints of its many design partners. In collaboration with Google Creative Lab, Tellart created the concept of the Web Lab–its user-experience as an integrated online and onsite experience; educational topics; the interactions between digital and physical touchpoints; the optical Lab Tag method for collecting creations; and the concept, hardware and software engineering of the five experiment groups. Industrial design for the exhibition was created collaboratively with partners Universaldesignstudio. B-Reel created the Web Lab brand, the interface and interaction design on the web, and worked with Tellart to provide the interfaces used in the museum.4. The Process: Describe the rigor that informed your project. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) What stakeholder interests did you consider? (Audience, business, organization, labor, manufacturing, distribution, etc., as applicable)
Prototype testing and iteration was a key part of the months-long development process that led to Web Lab’s launch. Sketches led to concept films; films led to mockups; mockups led to prototypes and finally full-scale working models. Tellart built and tested many of these full-scale prototypes in the Boston Museum of Science, as well as with users online. Experiment prototypes were tested for their efficacy in: developing a sense of social presence and collaboration between audience online and in-museum; informal teaching of computer science topics; ability to run 24/7 for a full year; minimizing pain of queuing when massive online audiences funnel to control a limited set of physical machines.
Concepts were also developed to protect visitor’s privacy and limit environmental impact. Lab Tags allow users to collect their creations for home viewing and sharing, through anonymous optical tags that are read by the experiments and home webcams. Environmental impact was limited through the use of erasable sand as the robot portrait drawing medium and dry erase marker on glass for Lab Tag Collector–eliminating consumable materials such as paper.
Universal Orchestra as case study:
Making live music with players both in museum and online–of different ages and skill levels–is no small feat. We explored a multitude of interaction models, physical instruments, graphical interfaces, live web connectivity, and the music they produce.
The Universal Orchestra is an exhibit played by online and in-museum visitors. Half of the instruments are played by people online, and the other half by museum visitors. Each player’s interface displays color-coded notes showing the pitches of other online/in-museum collaborators, and lets the player drag-and-drop notes into a loop-based display.
While players in the museum have an almost direct manipulation experience between the interfaces and actuators on the instruments, online players have a slight delay between moving a note on the site and waiting for the video/audio of the physical instrument to get back to their browser. We designed this latency to be visible by adding simulated “viscosity” to the online player’s interface, and explaining the technology behind the system.
We chose to use analog instruments to emphasize physicality; we used professional grade, tonal percussion instruments for their ruggedness, and designed custom frames to arrange them optimally for the recording and streaming equipment.5. The Value: How does your project earn its keep in the world? What is its value? What is its impact? (Social, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, environmental, cultural, gladdening, etc.)
Web Lab is the first hybrid physical/virtual museum exhibit to run 24hrs per day, for a year. In just the first six months, we saw over five million visitors from 196 countries, who created more than three million robot sand portraits, musical compositions, and other creations.
The exhibition is entirely free, and hopes to educate and inspire people of all ages. The lab is designed to reveal the intrinsically amazing (yet often invisible) workings of the web, and this educational focus informed every decision in its design and execution. We embraced the harshest constraints; ranging from privacy laws, to bandwidth infrastructure, to interface clarity, to the ruggedness required of robotic exhibits that are subjected to thousands of tourists and school groups every day. We lead an effort with our project partners that will result in the open source release of project code and CAD models, which will bring the magic of the Web Lab to millions more people across the globe.
I was shocked at the technological concept applied to the area. I really like that is an interactive space that links the world without limits, people can visit the exhibition and take part of it remotely, I participated too and I even did a portrait. – Mauricio Lara
I particularly identify with displays in which I can interact, but this especially breaks all barriers of distance and the physical presence of those who participate and the “visit”. Very good project. – Sebastián Lara
I think the most complete project as it covers technology, innovation, impact, design, creativity, and is global, experiential, and educational: many aspects that make it a different concept. I think it goes beyond all other projects and that the exposure is huge. – Michel Rojkind
I was impressed by the achievement of this project. I love the approach of making digital information physical outcomes like the music and the sand portals. From the video to the creation of the robots, apps, etc., this project approaches interiors and exhibition design in all ways possible. – Andres Mier y Teran