A brand new, temporary exhibit has just been unveiled at Techniquest, designed by an inspiring team from Cardiff Metropolitan University as part of a pilot project that seeks to do just that.
Thanks to financial support from the Welsh Government’s SMART Expertise fund, the Data Physicalisation Technology (DAPTEC) Team have been beavering away in the Fab Lab at Cardiff Metropolitan University for many months, working around all the limitations that the pandemic and associated lockdowns involved.
Now, with the help of the Cardiff Harbour Authority, Cardiff City Council, Yard Digital Agency and the wardens of Flat Holm island, they have installed their prototype at Techniquest; turning the data being collected on Flat Holm into something that gives people on the mainland a better idea of what’s happening across the water.
Whether it’s how sunny it is on the island, how many gulls or other seabirds are nesting there, or where the best spots are on the island to find butterflies – by touching different panels of the exhibit, visitors to Techniquest can light up the map with colour, to discover more about the ecology of the island that sits so close to our shores, but which relatively few of have been able to visit.
You can watch the changing weather patterns as the data turns the ‘Toblerones’ – as the triangular-tube-shaped descriptor panels are fondly known – to give an impression of how sunny, cloudy or rainy the weather is on the island at any point in time. As visitors interact with the exhibits, the team at Techniquest actively feed back to the DAPTEC creators so they can continually improve the data process; making sure the protype continues to develop in terms of ease of use and clarity of information shared.
James Summers, Head of Projects for Techniquest commented:
“The world is full of data that is collected on a daily basis. However unless you are in that particular field of expertise, it can be difficult to make that data, engaging and accessible to everyone. This project helps explore new ways of communicating data using physical interactive exhibits and allows people to see live data in a user friendly way.”
And it’s not only the live data that’s being turned into something more visual. The team analysed decades of data that had been collected through environmental data records, wardens’ logbooks and annual gull counts, to create a wealth of information that can now be easily accessed by the public in an impressionistic form.
The island of Flat Holm is a real ecological gem, that for many remains an unexplored, mysterious shape on the horizon. Yet the island has a fascinating history. The first human traces discovered there date back to the Bronze Age, while in the 18th century its position made it perfect as a smuggling base. The Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi transmitted the first wireless signals over open seas from the island in 1897 – and it once housed an isolation hospital for cholera patients.
Nowadays it plays host to various sustainable, green energy technologies and is officially a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The DAPTEC prototype exhibit will be housed until June on the first floor, in the Environment Zone, to allow visitors to Techniquest to get that little bit closer to understanding more about the island, even if they’re unable to make the journey there themselves.