Telematic Dinner Party

A telematic kiss between London and Barcelona guests at the in-the-wild pilot study dinner party. 

Client

Furtherfield Art Gallery, UK
Newcastle University, UK

Sector

Educational, Artistic, Non-Profit

Summary

The existing secure portal for B2B customers suffers from functional issues of stability, findability, and reliability. The discovery phase investigated the existing portal from a functional, stakeholder, and customer experience perspective. Resulting in recommendations for a new design to support how B2B customers think and work to complete their orders.

My Role

HCI Researcher and Workshop Facilitator

Collaborators

HCI Professors, Artists, Game Designers, Developers, Engineers, and  Media professional in Barcelona, Spain, and New York City, USA

Time Frame

Six Month Research Project (3/2011 – 8/2011)

Background

Telematic Dinner Party (TDP) is a series of exploration of how we can combine the rituals around food and our consumer technology to enhance the connection between co-located groups.
Exploring telematic touch between Barcelona and London guests at the in-the-wild pilot study dinner party.

What is a Telematic Dinner Party?

The Telematic Dinner Party explores the growing trend of people remotely connecting in social and leisure settings. Drawing on this trend, we identified the social practice of sharing a meal as ripe for re-interpretation in the hybrid space where virtual and physical interactions meet. We explored the opportunities to design a technology platform that supports remote guests in experiencing togetherness and playfulness within the practices of a traditional dinner party

The Problem

Co-located and remote guests are sharing a sushi meal in one of the telematic dinner studies.

Problem to Solve

How to recreate and re-imagine an everyday activity, eating with others, when guest are physically distant?

Solution

Build a video/projection platform that allows the integration of co-located and remote guests around a dining table. In addition to video and audio, a pair of networked turntables (Lazy Susans) provide physical remote agency between the two groups of guests.

Results

Remotely located dinner guests successfully shared a dining experience comparable to a traditional co-located dining experience.

The Process

Dedicated video conference rooms are expensive to install and proved to be underutilized due to access restrictions. These installations are being replaced by laptops and free video conferencing applications. 

Market Survey

Historically, commercial companies have invested in dedicated video conferencing rooms designed to provide the best line of sight to eye alignment and seamless visual connection between the two locations. These tend to have limited use due to cost, access, and training.
The current trend is to improve video conferencing methods when using personal devices such as laptops, tablets, and mobile phones.

There are a few works in the performance art arena regarding remote dinner parties. The focus tends to be more about the performance and technology than about sharing and connecting over a meal.

I observed the formation of micro conversations that occur in dinner parties with guests of more than six people.

Observations

I observed traditional dinner parties and documented the key elements. Activities to consider in the remote spaces are the soft-start, movement around the table, and physical engagement across the table.

  • The soft-start is the activities for guests as they arrive in intervals.
  • Throughout the dinner, guests will move to talk in smaller groups.
  • Guest interaction involves sharing food, passing entrees, and sharing content on mobile phones to support storytelling activities.
In-the-wild pilot study: A video of the Barcelona and London guests creating collective cheers across the two remote locations.

Pilot Testing (in-the-wild)

I designed a pilot study to test the ability of consumer equipment and networks to support a telematic dinner party. The in-the-wild study was conducted between London, UK, and Barcelona, Spain. Each location used the audio/visual equipment they had available. We aimed to create an identical setup in each location.

Several technical issues impacted the guests’ experience.

  • The most significant barrier was the audio feed’s latency issues that hindered real-time verbal conversations.
  • The guests utilized their creativity to overcome technical failings.
  • They employed paper, markers, and their food to send messages to each other.
  • The study outcome was more of a performance than a dinner.
To overcome the audio issues the Barcelona guests write notes and project them on the London tabletop. 
A view of Barcelona’s guests’ dinner and technology set up to mirror the London setup. 
The guests in one of the dinner parties remotely played with the other guest’s food via the networked turntables. 
A diagram of the layout of the audio and video designs to create an immersive telematic dining experience across two spaces. 

Functional Prototype

The pilot studies I conducted informed the design of a functional prototype for a study consisting of four telematic dinner parties. The key elements addressed in the new study:

  • Improve latency and quality of the audio feed with professional-grade equipment
  • Integrate co-located and remote participants using round tables
  • Introduce opportunity for guests to have physical remote agency  across the two locations with networked turntables 

The prototype corrected the barriers from the pilot study with three fundamental design changes.  

  • A high-end projector with a filter allowed the camera and projector to be position together and prevent recursive feedback. 
  • Speakers positioned in the chairs for directional audio from the remote guest’s location. 
  • A sense of play fostered between the guests by the networked connected turntables (Lazy Susans). The turntables were synced. By turning one turntable, the other turntable duplicated the movements.

These dinners proved to create a connected dining experience for the guests. They successfully shared food remotely via the networked turntables and played games.

For the lab studies, one group played a game of “Telematic Pictionary” through the tabletop projections. 
For the lab studies, one group conducted a telematic murder mystery dinner party complete with costumes and audio soundscape. 

The Results

The behavior analysis outcomes.

The four dinner parties were run with the functional prototype design. These dinners were successful in creating the engaging experience of a shared meal. The analysis of the these telematic dinner parties revealed three distinctive patterns.

  • Conversation flow was the ease with which remotely located guests converse with little or no need to repeat themselves.
  • Playfulness may be an attention-seeking action intended to infuse levity into the event.
  • Collaborative events are occurrences of participants in both locations coordinating to create a singular event for the group.

The Telematic Dinner Party studies inform our current new COVID-19 normal of looking for ways to create meaningful and intimate connections of everyday activities across distance.

Publications

The Telematic Dinner Party
SIGGRAPH 2012, Los Angeles, California, USA

Telematic Dining: A Live Performance?
SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems 2012, At Austin, Texas, USA

Telematic Dinner Party: Designing for Togetherness through Play and Performance
Designing Interactive Systems Conference 2012 Newcastle Upon Tyne United Kingdom

Not Sharing Sushi: Exploring Social Presence at the Telematic Dinner Party: Eat, Cook, Grow: Mixing Human-Computer Interactions with Human-Food Interactions – MIT Press