The Whether Bird

The Whether Bird is a fantastic conversation starter for the power of co-design. Co-design workshops, such as those with Loaded Dice open the opportunity for people to dream up situated and idiosyncratic smart objects that fit into their domestic living situation. Co-design labs, such as living labs, repair cafes, public maker spaces can offer the infrastructure for people to connect to each other and to build and maintain these smart objects. Such an integrated co-design infrastructure offers the opportunity for people to connect through the idiosyncrasies of their domestic lives and through repairing household things or making novel smart ones. Now, this is the point, when usually an engineer raises his hand and asks about the efficiency of scale. And this is precisely the point. These infrastructures need technology toolkits that are easy to use, easy to tinker with, easy to maintain, and most of all: trustable, transparent, stable, open, and secure (e.g. Trustable Technology Mark)

The Whether Bird is the outcome of a co-design workshop, where we used Loaded Dice together with blind and visually impaired students to co-design smart things that are meaningful to them. The student co-designers disapproved of speech assistants because using them might expose them as »needy and handicapped«. Simultaneously, they face the problem that their smartphone apps only provide weather forecasts with no way of knowing whether it had rained and the streets would still be wet:

Researcher: “How do you know if it did rain overnight?” 
P04: “I ask a Weather App since I can’t look out of the window. Otherwise I would notice when I feel that the street is wet.” 
Researcher: “Don’t you are at risk getting wet feet then?” 
P03: “Been there.”
P04: “You also can smell whether it did rain.”
P03: “Right!” 
P02: „I feel like the birds sing more melancholically when rain is approaching.” 

In answering these two challenges, the student co-designers envisioned The Whether Bird. Outside, on the windowsill, a weather sensor would measure the amount of rain over the past few hours. Inside, within the flat, a plush bird equipped with a hidden actuator would be wirelessly connected to the weather sensor. The plush bird would sing at the touch of a button, a tweak to the beak, or stroking the birds’ belly. Depending on whether it has rained, the bird would sing just a slight bit differently, so that only the blind student would know what this means.