How do you make a talking book?

This is an early prototype of the project I’m making for The Library of Lost Books: a book that tells a story by responding to gestures and movement when taken off a bookshelf.

An accelerometer is attached to a book, measuring the x- y- and z-axis data of the book. A LilyPad Arduino detects the changes in position of the book and sends the data wirelessly (using an XBee network) to an iPhone.

The iPhone processes the data and triggers one of six audio files, depending on the orientation of book:

  • Upright
  • Placed on back
  • Placed on front
  • Upside down
  • Placed on spine
  • Placed with spine facing upwards

Admittedly it’s not the prettiest or the most elegant at the moment. And my poor old well-thumbed, dog-eared Big Blue Book Of DIY has been volunteered as stand-in for the real book while in the prototyping stage.

Nonetheless, this is an important stage to have reached. It means the basic idea works.

So now it’s about the data and responses getting cleverer: what happens when several of the orientations are combined into gestures? Can the book detect and respond to more complex gestures, such as a hug, alongside other data, such as readings from light sensors?

And there’s also the story the book will tell through audio – a linear narrative with hidden stories to be discovered and read through different gestures.

The big next step for this project is something I hadn’t given much thought to in the original spec: collaboration.

The more I want this Library of Lost Books project to do, the more it needs other brains than mine alone. It needs different approaches, ideas, skills and discussions – and will be a much better, stronger project for it.

So I’m hugely chuffed to be working on this with two rather brilliant people from mobile app developers Agant. We’ll be starting on the iPhone development work soon – taking all the processing data part away from the LilyPad Arduino and putting it onto the iPhone instead, which is better suited to this work. It’s really exciting that we’re now a team of three working on this project. It feels more playful and interesting.

I’m also fairly close to needing to write down the first draft of the book’s story, rather than just storing it in my head and hoping it works in the real world.

I keep going back to my original whiteboard scribblings at the start of this project: What happens when you give a gestural language to a thing? How do you make something feel like magic?

I hope it’s all going to work. I hope we make something magical over the next few months.

Keep your fingers crossed.

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