Sensing & Trapping: Project review


Creating Death Traps for Halloween

On Friday 31st, 2015, Halloween, eighteen students from six different schools and eleven courses exhibited their responses to the above brief from this week-long Sensing & Trapping AcrossRCA project in Hockney Gallery, Royal College of Art. AcossRCA is week-long, college wide programme which encourages cross-disciplinary collaboration between students from different backgrounds and interests on a series of unique briefs.


Initially inspired by tragic death of the ‘sensor expert’ in the 1997 movie The Cube, the context of ‘death trap’ was used to encourage designers from multiple-disciplines to question the current usage of sensors in interaction design, whether they are used in a proper way and why do we use them to engage certain interactions?

The Week

The week started with the project briefing by Xinglin Sun and Chao Chen. The brief encouraged to students to  build narrative and playful scenario around their sensing and trapping ideas. In the afternoon, IED (Information Experience Design) senior tutor Dr.Brock Craft gave the students an induction about sensors by illustrating a wide range of sensors by functionality which aimed to give the students an general idea of different sensors. Then students formed into five groups and had brainstorming.

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On the second day, after presenting their initial ideas to the group and the tutorial with Xinglin and Chao, the students finalised their ideas and started to explore different sensors. IDE second year student TianJia Hsieh, kindly offered guest tutorials, helped the students solving their technical problems during the week.

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Over the week the students collaborated seamlessly, contributing their specialities to their installations. Towards the end of the week, students design fabricated the structures of their installations in the Darwin Workshop and installed their works in the Hockney Gallery, Stevens Building which were shown from 17:00 to 19:00,  October 31st, 2014.

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The Projects

Jon Rasche (IDE, MA Year One), Jae Yeon Lee (Textiles, MA Year One) and Mao Tsen Chang (Womenswear, MA Year One)

Kill Your Friend!

The team created a electrocute game played between two friends. A hand of each player was tied to a stand and there was a electric shock component underneath their wrists.  The player could move their fingers to press either the green or red buttons on the stand which indicating their choices to electrocute themselves or their friends. The logic to survive would be explained to the players before they made the choice.

However, as there was a dexter sitting between them, they would not know the other’s choice. The player’s choices would be fed back to the control desk where the dexter decided which player should be electrocuted according to the logic.

The game raised a lot of discussions and it was definitely an once-in-the-lifetime experience that people queued to get electrocuted!

William Fairbrother (IED, MA Year Two),  Shivangi Ladha (Printmaking, MA Year One) and Elizabeth Winstanley (Textiles, MA Year One)

Study of the Head of John the Baptist on a Charger

Inspired by the Robert Wilson’s video portraits of Lady Gaga at the Musée du Louvre, the team installed an interactive art intervention in the gallery featuring the image from Study of the Head of John the Baptist on a Charger by Oscar Gustav Rejlander at 1885.

When the visitors tried to approach the painting to admire it, the eyes of the beheaded  St. John would open, which created a classic effect of horror using proximity sensor.

Yasmeen Sabri (IED, MA Year One) and Christina Worner (Visual Communication, MA Year One)

Infinite Horror

The installation comprised a box on a plinth where the visitors can put their head in and a projector which would start projecting when it sensed the presence of a visitor. The installation trapped the visitors’ body in a small space to strengthen the feeling of horror.

All kinds of insects like cockroaches, ant and worms were projected to the interior of the box which was covered by reflective surface, reproducing the image of horror infinite.

Junkyung Lee (IDE, MA Year Two), Junseok Moon (Interior Design, MA Year One), Yan Lu (Visual Communication, MA Year One) and Jia Wu (Design Products, MA Year Two)


The team built a telephone-booth like space with three telephones ringing all the time. Different sounds were played in different earpieces and only one of them was playing the authentic telephone ringtone. However if the visitor chose the wrong telephone, they might end up having an bloody ear!


Harry Thompson (IDE, MA Year One), Revekka Moustaki-Zei (Jewellery Design, MA Year One) and Alexander Barretta (Achitecture, MA Year One)

Trick or Trick?

The team took their initial theme the Halloween centric idea of trick or treat by trapping the visitors in a space where they would have to decide between a binary choice. The choices were presented in a threatening black box with hand holes.

In one choice, a DC motor driven pump squirted ‘blood’ through piping onto unsuspecting hands, triggered via an IR sensor positioned with the beam across the middle of the hole. The other one featured a creepy hand to grab the visitors as they put their hand through another IR beam. However, grabbing is a very complex action, so the team improvised and settled on a reasonably unsettling swat of a claw (made of rubber piping!). A simple rotary mechanism was built driven by a DC motor (trying to utilise a stepper motor proved complex and destructive!).

The team occupied a corner of the gallery with black panels which provided a sufficiently unsettling environment for the sensor traps. The reactions (lots of creams!) got from people made the sustained week of effort totally worthwhile.

Thanks to everyone who helped making this week possible, including our guest speaker Dr. Brock Craft and technical specialist Tianjia Hsieh. Many thanks to Head of IED Dr.Kevin Walker, Ellen Delbourgo from AcrossRCA and Health & Safety Officer Mike Alexander who kindly allowed the ‘death traps’ happened in RCA!
But most of all, thank you to the students for your devotion and engagement to this project, it’s being a privilege to work with you!

Project led by Xinglin Sun and Chao Chen. Photo credit @ Xinglin Sun.


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