Playing with Pozyx

Interactive theatre maker Rachel Briscoe shares the outcomes of her Near Now Fellowship

Posted on 26th April 2018

Written by Rachel Briscoe

Rachel Briscoe used her Fellowship as an opportunity to research new data, science and technology-driven tools and techniques to shape future projects developed by her interactive theatre company fanSHEN.

The Fellowship has supported the development of new project The Justice Syndicate. Rachel has worked with neuroscientist Kris de Meyer and computational artist Joe McAlister to prototype and test methods of using data and machine learning to analyse audience behaviour during an interactive performance, which in turn affects the audience’s experience through bespoke changes to the narrative.

Rachel used the Fellowship's research fund to travel to Ars Electronica festival in Linz, Austria. The 2017 festival was themed around creative applications of Artificial Intelligence.

Through the Fellowship, Rachel was able to bring work-in-progress performances of The Justice Syndicate to Nottingham and find further opportunities to showcase the project to new audiences.

The time and resources afforded by the Fellowship allowed for the exploration of tools and techniques that could impact future projects, such as the use of artificial intelligence, chatbots, virtual/augmented reality and accurate position tracking.

Below, Rachel shares insights into the experience of working with one of these innovative new tools, Pozyx.

Playing with Pozyx

Sometimes it’s the bits of projects that don’t work which stick with you. When we made Invisible Treasure in 2015, lots of the action was triggered by players moving to different places in the space or grouping in different ways. We struggled to track people with the degree of accuracy we wanted. Latency was also an issue — people weren’t always sure that it was their actions that had caused a certain thing. In the grand scheme of things, Invisible Treasure was a big success but it’s the stuff I wasn’t happy with that continues to bug me. That I’m always looking for a solution to, even three years after the event.

Visiting Ars Electronica as part of my Fellowship, and playing interactive games in Deep Space revealed one solution in hindsight, but laser tracking would have been unthinkable on our budget. A presentation at a random museums conference alerted me to the existence of ultra-wide band (UWB) and got me thinking about its possibilities. Sure, every player would need to wear a tag, but on Invisible Treasure we toyed with the idea of a costume item anyway. I reminded myself; this wasn’t about trying to fix a past project, it was about exploring what could be possible in future.

An extended email correspondence with Ghent-based start-up Pozyx got me thinking further. Their kit, most commonly used to locate items in warehouses, claimed a degree of accuracy and lack of latency which could provide the foundation for some interesting interactive mechanisms.

I consider myself incredibly lucky to have the Near Now Fellowship and from the outset had been clear that, as much as possible, I wanted to share the advantages of it. So being able to purchase the Pozyx developer kit shouldn’t just benefit me. Working with the brilliant Kev Lewis, of Goldsmiths tech society Hacksmiths, we came up with an event which would be about testing what the Pozyx kit could do, but also about bringing theatre and live game makers together with creative technologists and computational artists. So often these ‘collaborations’ are forged over a rushed application form; there’s a real lack of opportunities to meet people and try out — in a very low risk environment — what it might be like to work together. An emerging shared vocabulary and new connections were as much aims of the workshop as trying out the location tracking kit.

Designing new interactive experiences with Pozyx and Hacksmiths at the Location in Performance workshop.

Designing new interactive experiences with Pozyx and Hacksmiths at the Location in Performance workshop.

For the workshop, which we held at Goldsmiths, we were fortunate enough to have Ruben and Laurent from Pozyx come over to play and share their expertise. A group of people from all sorts of backgrounds met, and over a day sustained by a bulk order of bagels from Brick Lane’s 24hr Beigel Bake, came up with 5 creative applications of the Pozyx kit. They ranged from playing the room like a musical instrument, to activating a poem by moving, to a detective story where a group of sleuths outside the room had to deduce what had gone down at the crime scene (inside the room) from watching the tracked movements of the suspects.

The day — which was characterised by generosity and a lot of laughing — sparked new ideas, new collaborations and for me, confirmed that working together on something is the best way of finding out who you get on with creatively, especially with interdisciplinary collaborations. Kev and I are talking further about future events that could foster this kind of interdisciplinary working. Also, look out for a fanSHEN show powered by Pozyx at some point in the not-too-distant future.

Further reading

Joe McAlister - computational artist

Pozyx - Accurate positioning technology

Review: The Justice Syndicate - LeftLion

Location in Performance event


Rachel Briscoe