When we were getting ready to start production on the video sketch, we were quite sure we would be going with touch as the medium for interacting with pigs. It made sense: a pig’s snout is its most sensitive interface with the world. It’s used for smelling and touching but also for grabbing, holding and of course eating.
However, it was still a question if the setup we had in mind would work: a touch-sensitive surface that would also be able to push back on a pig snout, remotely controlled by a human player using a mobile phone or tablet.
So we had no choice but to go back to the farm, and see what pigs really respond to. To see how we might draw their attention, and subsequently hold it.
We sat down and brainstormed a long list of things we would bring, ranging from a can of compressed air to water in a spray bottle, and from a Maglite to an old electronic keyboard.
The point was to open ourselves up to surprise. To consider as many pig senses as was practically possible.
Irene built a frame with a coated mesh stretched onto it, that we would be able to position vertically or horizontally. We could sit behind it to push against pig snouts on the other side using our hands, or we could use a long pole with a hook at the end to push from below at a distance.
Pigs on top of Irene’s mesh frame
Hein joined us to film everything, which was a good way of introducing him to the environment since he hadn’t been there before. This way he could figure out the details for when we would need to return to do the actual filming for the video.
With all our equipment collected, we headed to the farm. Upon arrival we shared our plans with Mr. van der Vegt, who was kind enough to allow us as much time as we needed to try everything we brought. We ended up spending a whole afternoon. By the end we were coughing from the dusty air typical of pigpens and of course we were very, very smelly.
Arjen, who assisted us during this trip, playing music to pigs while Hein is filming
But what did we find? Did the prototypical touch surface indeed succeed as we’d expected? As is almost always the case, things did not go according to plan.
Even though pigs were certainly interested in the touch surface, and we did succeed in pushing back on their snouts in both setups, it was kind of hard to establish a dialogue in this way. We simply couldn’t establish the reasonably clear back-and-forth of action and reaction we would need to build a game around.
However, when we tried the Maglite with colored filters, we saw pigs moving into its beam. It still wasn’t too convincing though.
We also tried a laser pointer. This was a different story. We’d brought it because we knew cats enjoy playing with it. But we didn’t have high expectations. Here’s a short video clip showing you what happened the very first time we tried it:
As you can tell from the video, this was a surprise to all involved. It also marked a turning point in our project. We decided to abandon the idea of using touch and instead focus on using light to interact with pigs. Looking back, an added conceptual benefit was that we were now able to establish a symmetrical play space between both species. Something we’ll go into a bit more in a next post.