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 together 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.

Problem to Solve

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

Tasks

Identify existing commercial and DIY products, design and test potential technical solutions in-the-wild, analyze the results and define new scenarios. Develop and user test new scenario for increased engagement and connectedness.

  • Market Research
  • Observations of dinner parties.
  • Pilot test potential concepts
  • Data analysis
  • Functional Prototype
  • User Testing

Solution

Build a video/projection platform that projects remote guests integrated with physical guests around the dining table.  The development of a pair of networked turntables (Lazy Susans) to provide physical remote agency between the two groups of guests.

Results

Through both visual and audio channels as well as remote agency, the dinner guests were able to share a holistic telematic dining experience comparable to a traditional face-to-face dinner. 


Market Research

Commercial companies offer dedicated video conferencing rooms that are intended to provide best line of sight to eye alignment and seamless visual connection between the two locations. These are limiting due to cost, access, and training. The current trend is to improve video conferencing on mobile devices such as laptops, tablets and 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.

Observations

Observing traditional dinner parties revealed that need to consider the soft start, movement around the table and physical engagement. The soft start is guests arriving at intervals. Guests move around the table during the dinner to talk to different people. Guests interaction with each other through sharing items from passing dishes of food, sharing content on mobile phones to other physical items to support the conversation.

Pilot Testing (in-the-wild)

Design and test concepts in-the-wild between London, UK and Barcelona, Spain with each location using equipment they had available. Identical long tables were setup with table top projections to connect the guests. The event was more of performance than a dinner. The latency issues in audio made verbal conversation difficult. The guest used paper and their food to send messages to each other.

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Functional Prototype

The data analysis informed the design of a function prototype to address the issues reveal in the pilot tests. The prototype used round tables to integrate the guests. A high-end projector with a filter was used to allow the camera and projector to be position together and prevent recursive feedback. Audio was location based at the place setting for each remote guest. Networked connected turntables (Lazy Susans) were introduced to provide physical engagement between guests. The turntables were synced. When one turntable was turned the other turntable duplicated the movements.

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Results

Four dinner parties were run with the lab setup and provided the engaging experience of a shared meal. Three distinctive patterns were observed in the Telematic Dinner Party: conversation flow, playfulness, and collaborative events.

Conversation flow was the ease with which remotely located guests are able to converse with little or no need of repeating themselves.

Playfulness may be an attention seeking action that is 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 current trends point towards our networks become more robust (G5). The concept of internet of things universally accepted and increasing presence of virtual reality tools. The Telematic Dinner Party points towards the near future where our well-designed and conceived remote experiences can foster meaningful engagement for everyday activities across distance.

I have published papers about this work in conferences and as a chapter in a book.

The Telematic Dinner Party

Telematic Dining: A Live Performance?

Telematic Dinner Party: Designing for Togetherness through Play and Performance

Chapter 4: Not Sharing Sushi: Exploring Social Presence at the Telematic Dinner Party
Book: Eat, Cook, Grow: Mixing Human-Computer Interactions with Human-Food Interactions

Collaborators

The Telematic Dinner Party project was created in collaboration with:

Furtherfield, London

Open Lab, Newcastle, UK

Latitudinal Cuisine, London

Telenoika, Barcelona

ITP Camp, NYC