"Imagination is a powerful tool that has shaped the world we live in today.It’s only when we dare to dream big that we discover the potential of what we can achieve."
- Helen Bellringer, Creative Director
Date: 21st October 2020
"labs is where we get to let our ideas off the leash"
As a technology-agnostic studio positioned deep in innovation, the need to constantly evolve is incredibly important. If we want to continue to deliver cutting edge experiences for our clients, we need to practice what we preach.
We cannot ask our clients to try new things if we're not continuously testing, hacking and creating ideas for ourselves too. It's why we've decided to formally launch Solarflare Labs (SFS) a way to communicate our ideas to the world.
Our Labs are headed up our CTO Stuart Cupit, with over 25+ years of experience working as a creative technologist, he is the brains behind the execution of our boldest and bravest ideas. Talking about Labs, Stuart had this to say, "exploring new technologies and creating moving experiences is at the heart of everything we do. Labs is where we get to let our ideas off the leash and see if they have legs. Sometimes the best way to communicate a new idea, is to create it.".
how do we pick a problem to solve?
Typically we define problems or challenges we're facing in our own lives. Whether personal or professional the question we ask ourselves often starts off with, is there a real-world issue we can hack with technology?
The wider Solarflare team meet in our virtual office, to talk freely, with no concept or brief in mind.
Often we notice trending topics and areas we all want to investigate creatively. Mental health, mindfulness and social distancing are some of the themes we've explored over the past few months. The creative workshops also encourage a positive internal culture, to speak about how we're feeling.
The Labs projects keep us inspired about why we work in this sector to begin with. It's collaboration at its finest. Unrestricted, untethered to a single technology or philosophy, and fuelled by our collective imaginations.
We're technology agnostic as an agency but here are some of the tools we use to bring our ideas to life.
Each lab project has 3 goals:
1. To explore the possibilities of new technology by being imaginative, trying new combinations or approaches that haven't been tried before.
2. To discover how far we can push these innovations, how they can live in the real world and improve people's lives
3. To build a solution (or proof of concept) that will can work today, connects the world to elevate the human experience.
The Future for Labs
Long term, we aim for Labs to evolve into a global innovation hub. A place we can work collaboratively on ambitious projects to tackle important and impossible issues. We're keen to expand our external team, looking for unique independent artists, designers and creators to give them new tools to express their ideas.
Labs will always remain as a hacking hub within Solarflare, a way for us to exercise creativity and own the full IP between projects and briefs. If you'd like to get involved or have an idea you think we should bring to life get in touch here.
Discover our labs work below:
Our new virtual offices
At the beginning of lockdown, we realised working from home and staying on Zoom meetings all day was exhausting. Whilst user testing some of the virtual space platforms available (see here), we decided what better way to test each platform than to build our very own virtual office. An upgraded space with bigger rooms and custom designed furniture, without the rent fees. Makes you think, we really should have thought of this earlier. The space is interactive, engaging and frankly, more fun. It's easy to access via desktop and a headset (for those who own one). Drinks come out every Friday!
biometric data turned into sculptures
Our latest proof of concept is an application: Myndscape. The idea started off by asking everyone on a Zoom call, the standard, polite, but generic "how are you?" after four calls with the same team, on the same day, it gets a little generic. What we realise we're trying to do when asking someone how they are, is to connect. We want to know how people are feeling to compare, to relate, to offer support but talking about how you feel at work isn't the most comfortable.
What we decided we needed was a visual way to represent our biometric data. A feedback mechanism that could showcase how we felt without us saying anything. Often our bodies can be stressed before our minds can catch up. Knowing what's going on inside is key to helping us make changes, seek help, and take time out if we need it. Smart devices such as a watch or phone could pick up data such as pulse rate which would then be read by the application and rendered into a sculpture. The more turbulent the sculpture waves the more stressed you are, the more smooth the 3d render the more calm. See more on this project here.
GESTURAL CONTROLLED DISPLAYS
The need to feel connected to our environment is universal. Especially now more than ever. Technology can help us create that feeling, by creating a sense of wonder and helping us stay present. Gestural controlled experiences aren't just visually compelling, they remind us of something more - the importance of play. Contactless, interactive installations have always drawn big crowds and we're looking forward to creating more ideas that give people that "wow" feeling.
stay safe bubbles
Staying safe should be everyone's priority right now, but trying to gauge distance in real life isn't the easiest.
It's why we decided to design a concept that solved the problem. Our Stay Safe bubbles are created using a camera and an AI people tracking algorithm, to anonymously find human shapes in the video image. We then calculate where they are standing in 3D and the distance between any two people, with the help of a velocity compensation algorithm to compensate for the lag between capture and display.
This determines the colour of the area we project onto the floor around them in realtime using digital projectors mounted overhead. One colour if they are socially distanced from all their neighbours (blue/green) and another if they are too close(red). All of this happens 60 times per second giving a fluid interactive feel to the experience. The distance, colour, and visual style can all be customised. This can be installed in any space where people have the potential to come into contact with others as an interactive reminder of the importance of taking care to protect everyone during these challenging times.