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A new relationship with space

 

 

Space Signpost™ products use patent pending technology to transform users' experience of being in space. Now you can bring planets, stars and galaxies right into the space your visitors are occupying. The effect is dramatic.

Many people find even simple astronomical ideas confusing and profess no interest in astronomy. The explanation of day and night for instance eludes many science centre visitors. Space Signpost products transform astronomy from an set of abstract ideas to a concrete experience. Users experience being in space, whilst remaining on the surface of the Earth. They see the motion of the planets for themselves, and the interface helps them to make sense of what they are seeing.

Signpost pointing to Saturn
Screenshot: Mars and Earth together

 

Interface to the real world
The interface for Welcome to the Neighbourhood is, itself, entirely novel. The project has been developed in partnership with users from a wide range of backgrounds. It has been specifically developed for people who, if asked, would not profess an interest in astronomy. It draws on extensive theoretical and empirical work on the way visitors conceptualise astronomy. It is playful and non-threatening and it takes misconceptions the user may have into account. However, both the interface and accompanying support material have been engineered for flexibility. They are entirely customisable to complement existing material, reach specific audiences and reflect an institution's brand identity.

What makes Space Signpost installations unique though, and what gives them particularly wide appeal, is the way that they combine a detailed computer model with direct reference to the real world. It’s not simply a multimedia resource or a hands-on interactive - it is a combination of the two and a new way of inhabiting space. Planets are not just pictures on a screen but real objects in the users' environment (albeit 3 billion kilometres away in the case of Uranus). The link between the space represented on the screen and the space the user actually inhabits is always apparent.

 
An external Space Signpost installation

 

External, Internal or Portable
Space Signpost installations can integrate with your existing programmes in a variety of ways. For public spaces we have developed an autonomous, external version, robust enough to resist the onslaught from vandals as well as whatever the weather can throw at it. The installation is operational 24 hours a day and the multimedia support is comprehensive enough for users to understand what they are looking at, but not so didactic that it robs users of the freedom to make space meaningful for themselves.

Located outside a science centre, an external Space Signpost installation can,

  • reach audiences that can’t enter the institution itself (because of the cost)
  • reach audiences that won’t enter the institution itself (for whatever reason)
  • attract people to the science centre’s location
  • encourage people to enter the institution to find out more

Located elsewhere in a city (e.g. the city centre) it can,

  • remind people of the existence of the science centre
  • reach audiences that can’t enter the institution itself (because of the cost)
  • reach audiences that won’t enter the institution itself (for whatever reason)
  • direct people to the centre’s location (the sign can be made to point to the institution as easily as it can be made to point at Mars)

Internal versions have even more flexibility. They can either work autonomously (a complete astronomy gallery in a box) or they can be customised to fit in with existing exhibits.

Located within a science centre it can,

  • attract new audiences
  • keep the existing visitor base returning (because it is a real-time exhibit)
  • add value to ‘immersive’ exhibits such as planetarium shows by giving users a ‘concrete’ experience of their location in space to complement their ‘virtual’ one
  • allow visitors to engage with astronomy at their own pace and on their own terms
  • allow visitors to engage with astronomy without feeling small or intimidated

User testing and theoretical background
Welcome to the Neighbourhood was, from the outset, developed in collaboration with users. See the Learning Research Report (March 2004) By Keri Facer, Director of Learning Research, Futurelab.

In addition, development was informed by existing empirical and theoretical work on the public perception of astronomy and pedagogical issues in astronomy. The project was inspired partly by its originator's PhD research into science in popular culture (see Adam Nieman's PhD thesis).

Discussion of some of the theoretical background and motivation for the project can be found in this paper: Welcome to the Neighbourhood: Belonging to the Universe (Even if Most of it is Hard to Get to) from The Proceedings of the 7th Workshop on Space and the Arts has been published on-line.

 

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A portable Space Signpost installation
 

 
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