VAII Global Connect|CAFA Visual Art Innovation Institute Expert interview Series--MARTIN TOMITSCH

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                            VAII Global Connect|CAFA Visual Art Innovation Institute Expert interview Series

                                            CAFA Visual Art Innovation Institute  Expert  Martin Tomitsch

Martin Tomitsch

Professor of Interaction Design – School of Architecture, Design and Planning, The University of Sydney Director of Innovation – Education, Enterprise and Engagement, Office of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, The University of Sydney
Founding member of the Media Architecture Institute CAFA VAII member and expert for media architecture

CAFA VAII :Please talk about your work updates and achievements since the covid-19pandemic. Is there any change in your life and work, and what is it?

Martin Tomitsch : Being based in Sydney, Australia, we have been relatively fortunate. The country went into lockdown for a few months in late March 2020, but thanks to being an island and strict regulations the country has been able to control the spread of the virus throughout the community. The main change for me in terms of my work was the shift to working from home. For the most part of 2020, I was teaching and working on my research from home.

A big impact was that unfortunately we had to cancel our visit to CAFA Beijing which was scheduled for May 2020. As of the time of writing this, Australia’s borders are still closed because of COVID-19. Fortunately, we have been able to remain in contact with our collaborators at the CAFA VAII remotely, contributing, for example, articles for a new book about the Media Architecture Biennale. However, we miss being able to meet everyone from the CAFA VAII network, teaching CAFA students about media architecture and enjoying Chinese food.

I feel I have also been lucky in that my research has not been impacted too significantly. We were, at the time when COVID-19 sent us into lockdown, working on a funded research project that applies media architecture principles to autonomous vehicles. The goal of the project is to improve the safety of autonomous vehicles and pedestrian’s trust in autonomous vehicles. We were able to continue working on this project remotely and to meet with the team via Zoom, and we were even able to continue growing the project team, for example, with a PhD candidate based in Vietnam joining the project.

Some research articles that we published since the pandemic about this project include:

Tomitsch, M., Hoggenmueller, M. (2021). Designing Human-Machine Interactions in the Automated City: Methodologies, Considerations, Principles. In: Wang B.T., Wang C.M. (eds) Automating Cities. Advances in 21st Century Human Settlements. Springer, Singapore.

Wiethoff, A., Hoggenmueller, M., Rossmy, B. Hirsch, L., Hespanhol, L., Tomitsch, M. (2021). A Media Architecture Approach for Designing the Next Generation of Urban Interfaces, In: Interaction Design and Architecture(s) Journal (IxD&A), N.48, pp. 9-32

Hoggenmueller, M., Tomitsch, M., Hespanhol, L., Tran, T., Worrall, S. and Nebot, E. (2021) Context-Based Interface Prototyping: Understanding the Effect of Prototype Representation on User Feedback. Proceedings of the ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI '21), ACM.
(which won an Honourable Mention Award at the conference)

I also continued working with some of my colleagues at the University of Sydney’s Design Lab on the revised edition of our best-selling method book “Design Think Make Break Repeat”. We began this work late in 2019 and we had to continue writing on the book via Zoom sessions following the outbreak of COVID-19. The new edition includes 20 new methods (bringing the toolbox to a total of 80 methods) and a new introduction to life-centred design. More information about the book and the methods can be found on the book companion website:?

The research project that applies media architecture principles to autonomous vehicles- crossing scenario

The research project that applies media architecture principles to autonomous vehicles- uber scenario

Trust and Safety in Autonomous Mobility Systems: A Human-centred Approach, Tomitsch M, Hespanhol L, Worrall S,Nebot E, Kent J, Wiethoff A, Ellison A, Australian Research Council (ARC)/Discovery Projects (DP20)

CAFA VAII :What are the changes in the area of visual art and design that have come into your awareness?

Martin Tomitsch : There are three changes that I have observed in my field. First, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the uptake of technology and driven new experimentation with online platforms. For example, it has been fascinating to see how art galleries and design exhibitions around the world have responded to the pandemic, from using virtual reality and 3D rendering technologies to allow online visitors to experience spaces and works in 3D, to hybrid formats where events take place in a controlled space with physical distancing and being live-streamed to the entire world. I have heard experts talk about how the pandemic has made the world even smaller. It is true, the world continues to shrink (in terms of how distance is perceived) because of technology. First, because of trains it became easier to travel large distances, with airplanes making it even faster to travel not just within countries but around the world. Second, the advent of the internet and global communications technologies allowed people to easily meet and talk across distances. And third, because of the pandemic and organisations around the world embracing online collaboration, many people now seamlessly operate across countries and continents, in many cases without even having to leave their homes!

This has resulted in art galleries, design exhibitions and other events becoming accessible to a global community. The other day, I attended a conference called “Bauhaus of the Seas” organised by the New European Bauhaus initiative. People from all over the world, whether it was morning, in the middle of the day or late at night, joined a video live stream and the conversations via Zoom. There I was, finding myself (virtually) amongst hundreds of people from around the world, including some influential design researchers who also joined the conference as attendees.

The second change that I have observed, is the focus in design research on a critical discourse about the future of our planet and toward a better understanding of how human life is entangled with nature and planetary wellbeing. This area of research was already emerging and growing before COVID-19, but — like many things—it seems to have risen in its prominence and gained in importance with the global pandemic.

The third change is an increased focus in the field on designing with and for robots that are able to support our lives. This was already an important focus with a growing interest in research and industry due to advancements in technology. However, the pandemic has led to many new applications of robotic technologies. In my own research, I am particularly interested in robotic applications in cities, and how we can design meaningful interactions between people and urban robots like autonomous vehicles.

CAFA VAII:Please talk about your artistic creation and relevant work during the pandemic?

Martin Tomitsch :  Because of my focus on cities and urban space, in the past decade, much of my own work was developed and exhibited as part of the Vivid Sydney light festival. Like many events, Vivid Sydney was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic. The last Vivid Sydney project that we worked on was led by one of my PhD researchers, Marius Hoggenmueller. Marius developed a small robot, called ‘Woodie’ that is able to draw on the street with chalk. We deployed Woodie as part of Vivid Sydney in 2019 to activate an urban laneway and to evaluate how urban robotic applications can contribute to placemaking — connecting people with each other and with the places they share. Media architecture played an important role in the design of Woodie, as the robot features a low-resolution lighting (LED) display to communicate with people in its vicinity.

During lockdown we were not able to do any further deployments and field studies with Woodie, hence Marius worked with one of our capstone students from the Master of Interaction Design and Electronic Arts (M.IDEA) program to create a virtual representation. Through this work, they developed the concept of “virtual experience prototyping”, which allows testing prototypes in a virtual 3D space via Zoom.

Our work on Woodie was documented, for example, in the following articles:

Hoggenmueller, M., Hespanhol, L. and Tomitsch, M. (2020) Stop and Smell the Chalk Flowers: A Robotic Probe for Investigating Urban Interaction with Physicalised Displays. Proceedings of the ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI '20), ACM.
(which won an Honourable Mention Award at the conference)

Hoggenmueller, M., Hespanhol, L., Wiethoff, A. and Tomitsch, M. (2020) Self-moving robots and pulverised urban displays: status quo, taxonomy, and challenges in emerging pervasive display research. Journal of Personal and Ubiquitous Computing, Springer.

Woodie was recently short-listed as a nominee for the Media Architecture Award in the category ‘Future Trends and Prototypes’.

An Urban Robot for Hybrid Placemaking Experiences

CAFA VAII:What do you think of the future trend of visual art and design?

Martin Tomitsch : I believe that we will see more interdisciplinary work emerging in visual art and design. A great example is the field of biological design (biodesign). There is no viable future of our planet in which plastic continues to be used the way it is today. Besides circular economy models and better recycling processes, biodesign will play an important role in the design of future products. While practical applications are still 10 to 20 years away, the field of art is already exploring these new kinds of materials in a highly experimental way. As has been the case so often in the history of art and design, I believe that what is a focus of experimentation in art today will finds its application in design in the not-so-distant future.

CAFA VAII:Can you talk about your following artwork plans?

Martin Tomitsch : I am planning to continue investigating how we can apply media architecture principles to urban robots. Beyond autonomous vehicles, we are also working on project proposals to explore other smaller forms of robots that can operate in shared spaces, such as Woodie.


Interview Curator/CHANG Zhigang
Chief Editor/DONG Huiping
Interview Assistant/Wang Yongmeng, FAN Gongqing, Zheng Yawen
/SHI Miaomiao
English translation/DONG Jing
Visual Design
/ WEI Xiangmin