Jen Southern & Chris Speed.
Comob is a digital arts project that explores the potential for collaborative mapping with GPS technology. Comob was developed as a research tool to explore social and spatial relationships between people in motion. There are free iPhone and Nokia applications that support this research. The software allows members of groups to see each others movement in real time on their mobile phones. The group is linked together by a line on screen that shows their relative spatial distribution. There is an additional Processing application that allows the actions of a group to be viewed by an audience.
Comob was initiated as a digital arts project to explore social relationships. The software has been used in workshops throughout 2009/10. These workshops are integral to the development process and allow us to see how groups respond to the software and interpret how it can be used in a combination of serious, social and playful situations. The four main workshops have taken place at Futuresonic 09, ISEA 09, Edinburgh College of Art and ‘Designing Environments for Life’ at Dundee Contemporary Arts.
‘Social citizen cartography’
This workshop is an experiment in group mapping and introduces a new tool for discussing environmental issues in the city. Using the comob GPS application we will explore how environmental issues are experienced on the ground during a group walk in the city.
How far does noise travel in different parts of the city? How far does the smell from a ‘Subway’ sandwich shop go? How long will you have to walk until you see a wild plant or animal? What does it feel like to be connected to a group on the screen of your mobile phone?
After an introduction to the technology we will venture out into Nottingham as citizen cartographers. Using the ‘collective’ body of the group, together we will detect, describe and demarcate, contributing to a collective and playful mapping of the city.
Back at base, we will review our movements in dynamic projections onto satellite maps, and discuss how using GPS to move through the city as a group reveals new relationships, senses of community and awareness of our environment.
Based on the game ‘Hare and Hounds’ a team of players using comob will nominate one of their number to be the ‘hare’. The ‘hare’ has a head start and sets off to travel North from the Broadway Cinema, followed after 5 minutes by the ‘hounds’. The hounds are attempting to surround the hare, while the hare is attempting to travel back to the Broadway without being caught. The hounds must never move south, but the hare can move in any direction.
Comob uses a ‘convex hull’ calculation to draw a line around the perimeter of the group like an elastic band. When one member is in the middle of the group they become disconnected from the line. As all players can see the others location they will immediately see when the hare is surrounded by the hounds.
A projection of the action will be visible at the Broadway throughout the game. Different strategies will unfold as the knowledge of each other’s locations are used in different ways to outwit other players.
While the game play is exploring what it feels like to be connected to other players visually, the idea of the hare and hounds is an allegorical reference to the power relationships inherent in GPS technology. Can the hare use the GPS to out wit the hounds?