Katherine Moriwaki Term Paper

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Katherine Moriwaki

An internationally respected artist and researcher, Katherine Moriwaki is currently a PhD candidate at Trinity College in Dublin. Her passion, her artistic and career drive, is the ongoing investigation of wearable fashions, networks, and the "experiential resonance of technologically mediated public space," according to her biographic materials presented on her Web site (www.kakirine.com).

She is pursuing her doctorate in the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering, focusing on creative and artistic applications of "networked communications and emergent behavior." She is presently an instructor in the Department of computer Science at Trinity College, and in the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering.

She is so-instructor (along with Jonah Brucker Cohen) of a class called "Electronics Playground," a hands-on introduction to "physical computing and custom controllers for interactive media." In her class description (MSC Multimedia Systems, Trinity College Dublin), which offers a clue to outsiders just how sophisticated her knowledge of leading edge technologies is, the college Web site explains that students develop prototypes using "simple and ordinary found materials." Technologies involving electronic prototyping are discussed and researched; students learn to design systems "that read local information from objects, people, or physical spaces (such as heat, light, sound, vibration, movement).

The connecting of microcontrollers to networks (such as GPS, Ethernet SitePlayer, radio frequency, infrared, and the Internet) in order to bridge the gap "between real and virtual worlds" is provided in her class.

She was formerly a Design Fellow at Parsons School of Design, where she created and taught a discipline she calls "Fashionable Technology."

The "Fashionable Technology" genre is actually a strong creative collaboration with other disciplines, namely wearable technology, art, and fashion. She received her Master's Degree from New York University (the Interactive Telecommunications Program), and her unusual and even provocative design work has appeared in IEEE Spectrum Magazine; her exhibits include Siggraph 2000, "number.02" at Centre Georges Pompidou, Break 2.2, and the E-culture fair, in Amsterdam, according to her biographical material.

Moriwaki's goal is to continue to create fashion that is more than unique: what she envisions is future-oriented and radical, technology and clothing; it features technology built into accessories; and at least in the eyes of many people who review and critique her design efforts, it's nothing short of amazing.

Her goal is also to try and make modern city living -- for commuters and residents -- more unpredictable and less mundane. Though a person interested in learning about her innovations and inventions should, ideally, actually have a chance to witness first hand her brilliance, or at least view photos of them, this paper seeks to describe her work in sufficient detail to give a good account of Katherine Moriwaki's essence and accomplishments to date.


In a presentation that Moriwaki gave at the European Transport Conference, October 2003, which she titled, "Information in Disguise: Engaging the Pedestrian," she talks about her approach to technologically-empowered design and fashion.

In the presentation, she pointed out that today's crowded city streets, and the typical commute by the urban professional, creates a lot of stress. This is not news, of course, in particular it's not news to the person who makes the daily commute into the megalopolis, and pushes and shoves his or her way to and from the office.

So Moriwaki sees that difficulty, and stress, and realizes it can be rough "to feel a sense of identity with the surrounding city space." Thousands upon thousands of people make that same trek daily, she continues, they follow "habitual repeated patterns," they are thoroughly familiar with their "chosen routes" but, they are "disconnected from their environment and from the surrounding city."

And so, given those reoccurring realities, Moriwaki (and her collogues at this conference, L. Doyle and R. Mahony, both also of Trinity College) writes that the main purpose of the research into these technology designs "is to make the urban space a more engaging place, for those people who move through it on a daily basis." The team led by Moriwaki plans to use digital technology to continue the research and design focusing on the pedestrian, using traveler and traffic data in a "novel way" to inform and engage the pedestrian.

The application of "qualitative factors" in the presentation and creative delivery of data, they believe, "can provide the public with a better-integrated and effective means of utilizing utilitarian information without adding to the already crowded and stressful" lives of so many people who experience the city on a regular basis.


Keeping Time: As part of her presentation at the European Transport Conference, Moriwaki showed her innovative "Keeping Time" and "The Handbag" projects. They are experiments, of course, and she told the gathering that the systems interact with the user and "present traveler information using a novel approach that exploits wireless networks and sensors" in a way that is "unobtrusive and artistic." Typical public transport timetables are rather blase and uninspiring, she implies, but "Keeping Time" delivers "real time" travel information in a "locally sensitive and contextually relevant" framework.

Rather than stick out in the urban environment, Keeping Time is placed at a strategic place -- a point of passage for travelers -- at the side of a road, a bus stop, a train depot, or even an airport (there is a Keeping Time at the Dublin Airport). She calls it a "playful alternative to timetables and scales." What the ambient media installation does -- besides provide a "sweetly optimistic reminder of the physical processes which increasingly bring people closer together" -- is offer five flickering lights that hang suspended over small LCD (liquid crystal display) panels.

The rate of flicker corresponds to the temperature report for a given city, which changes periodically as a new plane lands at Dublin Airport. In fact, the weather data for each city from which a new plane has arrived is shown on the Keeping Time display. Moriwaki calls this form of technology a "sense of unity" while external processes are "harnessed into an intimate reflection of increasing interdependencies."

The Handbag: Moriwaki's "Handbag" is part of her "Inside/Outside" collection. The Handbag actually has technology built into it which integrates pollution sensors to offer the woman carrying the Handbag an opportunity to know what the current environmental factors are. Air pollution and audio pollution is monitored through the sensors built into the handbag; and the data from the sensors is shown as an ambient display on the surface of the bag, as well as being collected into a "digital diary" for review at some later time.

Moriwaki's description of the Inside/Outside Handbag is richly descriptive and fun, in her typically enthusiastic and eclectic vocabulary: "The presentation of data both in real-time, and in aggregate provides opportunities for both spontaneous and planned reflection of one's environmental exposure, acting as both 'mirror' and 'journal' of one's urban experience."

Several individuals who are all using the Handbag simultaneously, can share "asynchronous readings of environment data," and it goes further than that, into a kind of security monitoring system, she explains. "Locally sensitive and contextually relevant data" can be gathered digitally by more than one Handbag carrier, to "police and monitor their own neighborhoods and public spaces."

The re-direction of behavior within the urban zone is possible through this process of "collection, reflection, and action." The technology woven into the Handbag is DAWN wireless ad-hoc network, developed at Trinity College. There is actually a "visible color change" that is programmable that occurs when certain ambient air quality and noise levels fluctuate; "thermo-chromic pigments mixed with acrylic paint" are applied to the fabric, to facilitate the color change.

In an article she wrote published in Personaldebris (www.personaldebris.com), Moriwaki writes that the Handbag, which has prototypes in use in Dublin and Los Angeles, that there will likely be a third bag (currently, one monitors environmental noise, and another monitors ambient air quality), which will monitor light levels. Those three are the three "environmental irritants" identified by transportation scientists that contribute to the commute, be it good or bad, for millions of urban workers and residents. She calls the Handbag's use as both "a metaphoric and literal container for internal and external information."

Urban Chameleon: In the same article in Personaldebris, Moriwaki describes the Urban Chameleon as a set of skirts "which react to the environment along three themes of social and urban interaction." A touch of the "touch" skirt changes its visual properties; body heat from the touch actually changes the color of the skirt. On the "speak" skirt, certain voice sounds in the urban environment cause motos to be activated and the skirt actually trembles. And the "breath" skirt responds to the air quality in the city.

These three skirts influence and change "perceptions of one's surroundings," she writes on her Web site.

Relationship With Technology:

Charge It. Meantime, "creative" is an understatement for an artist who has conceived and produced a skirt called "Charge It." The skirt, her marketing copy asserts, is "for the material girl," and has a place for a mobile phone in a…

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