City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.


You will have heard a lot about smart cities and the Internet of Things. What you won't have seen is that many genuine products, services and projects in those areas. You will, of course, as there is immense potential after all, but these ideas are clearly something we have a sense of, a hunch about, without the evidence to test it. It's a logical conclusion of a set of cultural and technological drivers, but then people, objects, experiences, buildings and cities are not logical, nor do they conclude.

Given this, BERG and Fabrica have been working together to create a condition where these ideas may be played out, in an open, transparent and legible way, and tested on real projects, in real spaces, with real people. Or as close as we can get to that, anyway.

And that's what we're announcing today. Sandbox is a collaboration between BERGand specifically the maker kits based on their BERG Cloud platform, as well as their general expertise and creativity in this area—and Fabricaand specifically, our team of multi-disicplinary researchers and staff, our clients and collaborators, and our building and environment.

At Fabrica, we are creating a campus-wide BERG Cloud network across our extraordinary building, and will be working with BERG's dev boards (with which they recently created Flock, for Twitter) in situ and across client projects, as well doing workshops with BERG to understand their possibilities and collaboratively prototype them. Further, as BERG open up these kits and platforms to other organisations, we'll be getting together to share experiences and collaboratively produce using the platform. This is the beginning, then, of a global network of connected spaces, across schools, studios and research centres (Fabrica is a bit of all three of those) which becomes a community of makers, coders, designers and producers collaborating together to move this area forwards.

A Fabrica interaction designer at work

A Fabrica interaction designer at work 

Jack Schulze came to Fabrica in December, as one of the first in our new series of lectures (more on that later) and he, I and Matt Webb had been talking since about how we could make a project that tests BERG's "dev boards" in the wild, as it were, and how we could take research and development around connected things and spaces beyond Fabrica's interaction team into some of our other studios. I'm interested in transdisciplinary, hybrid projects emerging at Fabrica—what happens when you throw a problem or opportunity at a studio comprising a coder, a graphic designer, an industrial designer, a journalist, a filmmaker, a musician, and external collaborators?—and think we might be uniquely placed to prototype interesting and valuable things as a result of our rich diversity of people, talents and cultures. Our recent COLORS News Machine is an example of this approach to some extent, to quite some acclaim, but we want to do more, across all fields. 

Fabricat on News Machine

Fabricat on News Machine

But we needed a platform that simplified that process, that made it relatively easy to connect things with internet, that had focused on the software side (all that messy account and "fleet" management) as well as the hardware side, that was road-tested yet could be developed in collaboration, and that had smart, engaged people behind it that we could work with (you can read my views on why I'm interested in the way BERG works in the Little Printer piece I wrote for Domus.) (BERG's Andy Huntingdon (seen in the Flock video!) is ex-Fabrica, so there's another nice connection too.)

Inside Flock

Inside Flock

Little Printer is also a clear proof of concept of BERG Cloud, all the way to successful product. That helps massively, in a world where people tend to build the platform before the things that platforms produce. To do both at the same time, each influenced by the other, is more useful. (By the way, I haven't mentioned here, but we made a Little Printer feed for COLORS magazine several months ago. If you have a Little Printer, you can subscribe to COLORS Yellow Pages here.)

It's not easy to make decisions about which platforms to install in your organisation, particularly in a sector that's moving as quickly as "Internet of Things", but all of this made it an easy choice to get behind BERG Cloud from a maker's point-of-view.

(And Matt Webb has written a great post explaining BERG Cloud, Sandbox, and this collaboration, from their perspective.)

We have a complex, engaging space to work with—for a small campus, we have an immense variety of inside and outside conditions, from 17th century stone and wood to Ando's concrete and glass, from open agora to closed soundbooths, from pools of water to gardens to "savannah", within complex weather patterns. 

Fabrica campus

Fabrica campus

It's an extensive pallette of materials to which we're adding both wireless and data, and with which we can really test what it's like to work with these new materials in real spaces. We also have around 60 people, of all kinds and doing real projects, and so we can begin to explore what it's like to really live, work and play amidst and betwixt connected and disconnected objects and spaces. This will change the way we communicate with each other, and our environment, and it's Fabrica's job to be on top of that.




So on behalf of Fabrica, I can say that we're very proud to be the launch partner for Sandbox. My intention is to turn the Fabrica campus into one of the world's leading centres in this field, for this kind of engaged and meaningful research, development and production which gets beyond the hype around "Internet of Things and smart cities" into uncovering the genuinely interesting possibilities. This includes turning our building and campus into a unique and beautiful place to visit and work with a living, breathing example of these experiences and technologies. We will be running workshops and studios for clients and collaborators in the space, in order to understand the promise of these technologies whilst living and working amongst them. Outside of a handful of research centres and studios, people don't really know what this new world will feel like, and what the possibilities might be—thanks to BERG Cloud and Sandbox, Fabrica will be a place where you can come and explore just that. 

If you're interested in that, do get in touch.

And by the way, if you're a young coder, interaction designer or other kind of maker who's interested in joining us at Fabrica, to work on these and other projects, then apply! It's free!

Our first workshop with BERG will take place shortly, wherein Fabrica researchers begin to unbox not just the dev boards but a whole new kind of making.


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