We live in the digital era. Nowadays, there are so many surveillance devices around us. We are not only talking about CCTVs, but also the sensors in the city, the parking lot gates, our smartphones, etc. They monitor people’s activities and produce data on a time basis. These devices create a large amount of data that might be useful – or at least interesting – for people, even though sometimes there are not easy to understand.
Edinburgh City Council has a website that provides the data about the city and can be accessed by people. For most of people, these data only look like a bunch of numbers. Even though there are a lot of meaningful data, it seems too difficult to understand the information behind the numbers. Information is easier to understand if they are shown as graphs or pictures rather than as texts or numbers. For example, the log that produced by a GPS tracker is meaningless for people who are not deal with GPS data often. But if we visualise the data into lines on top of a map on the screen, it will be easier to imagine the tracks that captured by the tracker. In addition, if we visualise the tracks to a physical thing, the visualisation will be more interesting. We can see or even can touch the information with our hands.
Based on the information above, I come with a theory that says: “Physical Data Visualisation is more engaging than on-screen representation”
I created a survey through Google Forms to ask people’s preferences about data visualisation. I got 57 responses and got the results below:
First, 63.2% of respondents prefer to have physical visualisation than on-screen visualisation. 57.9% of them chose physical visualisation because it is easier to understand and the reason for another 43.9% is because it is more interesting. Lastly, 47.4% think that bar graph is the visualisation that is the easiest to understand.
From the results above, I browsed the information from the Edinburgh City Council Open Data website (http://edinburghopendata.info). I tried to find datasets that might be interesting to be shown in physical data visualisation. After some time, I decided to visualise the number of passengers in Edinburgh Airport on a monthly basis. Unfortunately, the data provided on the website is not detailed enough, so I tried to find more data from the source website (http://www.caa.co.uk/home/) where Edinburgh City Council get the data. Maybe this dataset is not very useful for most people, because what is the point to know the number of passengers come and go in the airport. I argue that even though the data is meaningless, but as long as you create a good physical data visualisation for the data, it will be interesting to see the visualisation result.
I built an artefact that inspired by Physical Charts from Microsoft Research (http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/um/cambridge/projects/physicalcharts/) to show the number of passengers in Edinburgh Airport on a monthly basis. I used 5 tape measures to represent the bar graph. I also used 5 LCD displays to show the month that the data is being shown by the particular tape measure and 1 LCD display to show the number of passengers for the tape measure in the middle. Each tape measure is driven by a stepper motor and an Arduino Yun that act as a slave and connected to an Arduino Mega ADK as a master. All LCD display get the data from the Arduino Mega ADK. There are two switches to shift the data one month after and one month before, so the users can choose the period of data that they want to see.