The Physical Whereabouts Clock (BBC R&D)

“I certainly love the idea of a physical version of the whereabouts system. So the brief I would set is a physical version of the whereabouts system.”


The Physical Whereabouts Clock is a Twitter powered whereabouts system inspired by The BBC, designed for MediaCity UK and Mozilla Mozspaces.

Whilst sketching ideas, simple prototypes were constructed. Limited by ability, a simple prototype that changed colour at the command of a tweet was constructed:

This was developed into a prototype that displayed locations from the Tweet:

A common atribute of Mozilla Mozspaces and BBC MediaCity is the kitchen area. Both have kitchen spaces that are central in the office and are used for communal meeting. It made sense that the kitchen element would be referenced in the items aesthetic. Glass was considered and jars were used to experiment with. The jar was rotated – with the view to having vinyl lettering indicating statues – as the Tweets were received:

Jars have numerous advantages over bespoke glass, some being; cheap, accessible, already threaded to make for easy mounting. It was important however that the aesthetic of the jar was removed from that of a piece of cheap glass. This was done simply by sandblasting them – which seems almost too easy however it looks fantastic and is great at diffusing light. They also reinforce the kitchen reference and in an array they are associated with items such as wine or spice racks:

These were washed out and various fonts and text application methods were prototyped:

Up until this point, the prototypes were made to house the jars horizontally, but turning the jar 90 degrees made it more aesthetically pleasing by distancing the similarities of the spice/wine rack association and making a different array proportions (a previous prototype of a 4×3 horizontal jar array worked out at almost exactly screen proportions. Not ideal when trying to move away from an existing screen). It then became more of a challenge to hide the servo mechanism. This was done by mounting it inversely inside the jar and designing a lid type piece to support its’ rotation.

Space was allocated on the list for the jar’s owner to hand draw a handle or avatar:

The vinyl lettering was laser cut straight onto the jars. Given the delicacy of the size of text, the task to plot and manufacture the vinyl was refused by a local sign maker’s.

The backing board for the jars was constructed of Acrylic and housed numerous LEDs. The jars were attached and made to be removable by using 4-pole jack sockets to connect them to the rest of the circuit. This did however make the wiring relatively complex:


It was then just a matter of assembling everything:

The final prototype was be presented on Friday 4th May and was exhibited at the #mscpd OpenLab 2012 on 25/05/12