After spending the best part of three months in The Edge’s basement, the time has come to release The Edge’s latest creation into the wild!
The Mobile Media Lab has been in development since late 2012 and has taken the combined brains of our Programming team and eaten most of the output from our 3D printer, so I thought I’d put together a quick Q&A to introduce the project.
What is the MML?
Physically — its a box. A very strong, portable waterproof box that contains the essentials for a mobile multiuser media creation lab. The current MML spec is eight iPad minis, a macbook air, a custom charge/sync station and various other bits and bobs, software and hardware in a Pelican Storm IM2500 case.
Conceptually — to take a line from the official project outline;
The Mobile Media Lab (MML) project is run by The Edge, State Library of Queensland and aims to develop a regional model of community responsive content creation for young indigenous participants in Rockhampton, Queensland.
Practically — it means that The Edge is outreaching to provide opportunity, expertise and equipment to do its part in fulfilling the State Library of Queensland’s mission. Output from the MML will range from complete video and music production to digital art, storytelling, web publishing and more.
Hang on — isn’t that just a bunch of iPads in a road case? What makes it special?
While the hardware is essentially off the shelf – the key part of what makes the MML a ‘lab’ rather than just a charging box is the emphasis on multi user creation, robust media sharing, and expert devised workshops and training programs. The lab will leave The Edge with content and workshops preloaded and expert assistance available. And we spent a lot of design time getting everything into a carry-on size case. And printing things out on our 3D printers.
So why iPads? Why not a few laptops — surely a more productive experience? Or android tablets?
Running workshops for years on various creative subjects — we have come to realise that a large part of almost any workshop can be thought of as ‘point and click’ time where the facilitator is going through menus, ticking boxes, opening and shutting windows. In short — dealing with the basics of a GUI and OS. Part of the joy of small screens is that most of this has been stripped away by necessity and the app and OS designers have thought long and hard about how best to do this. If you want to take a photo on a pad or phone device — you touch a picture that represents an camera – no mouse point, double click to open programme. This is a trivial example — but a photo editing/retouching app like snapseed or a sound mangler like samplr make incredibly complex manipulation of pictures and sound as close to intuitive as possible. To the point where I feel old just thinking about how hard it used to be to get these kinds of results! It feels obvious that in a few generations time, having a screen that you can’t touch will be the unusual thing, so why buck the trend? iOS over android was a fairly straight forward choice in the initial planning stages. Android couldn’t take the realtime audio requirements of the kind of apps we need to use. Finally, form factor and weight considerations means an iPad based lab can actively engage between 8 – 16 participants, with a carry on luggage size amount of kit. While it is possible to carry 6 laptops and assorted support gear, or load a roadcase with a sound system into a van, lugging around so much gear is bad for our backs and eventually for the gear itself. This time we took a modular approach, built around ‘add-on packs’ that can be community sourced and provided, or even built as part of MML workshops or The Edge’s programming.
Who is it For?
The lab is part of a framework for engaging young indigenous people in media creation in regional Queensland. Our initial engagement in Rockhampton will be based around working with Durumbal Community Youth Services, who have graciously offered their workers and facilities for us to start our workshops and training series. Rockhampton Regional Council and Creative Capricorn will help us put the lab into the community, supplying booking system, space to work and contact and links with existing creative types. Also ABC Open Capricornia is keen for their participants to use the lab for their various exciting projects.
Where is it going to be in use?
Currently the lab has been travelling between The Edge and Rockhampton, with a couple of excursions for testing to Stradbroke Island (working with the outstanding folk from SLQ Kuril Dhagan) and to the Mini Maker Faire in Adelaide.
What is the future?
By June this year we anticipate the MML will be in full use in the community, with all training and hand over complete, and the lab will be living in Rocky. We will provide in-person training and continual development. At the end of the process The Edge will make freely available DIY plans to create a MML and in the process we will have moved on to Version II — stronger, faster, smarter, and maybe even smaller than before. Along the way we will be working with other parts of SLQ
Over the next few weeks I’ll be going into details, exploring the design process, the parts, the build, the software, the apps, and the workshops – keep an eye on this space.