Knock Knock

Knock Knock are pairs of networked woodpeckers.

When you physically make one woodpecker knock on the wall, its connected pair, wherever it is located, automagically knocks as well. This simple and playful action and reaction allows people to develop and improvise their own ways of communicating.

They help people who work isolatedly to experience the presence of other, geographically dispersed people in a way that is at once playful and non-intrusive. Our interviewees shared with us their desire to bring the sociable into their often solitary world of working at home. One interviewee used a great expression, ‘ambient sociality’, with which she meant that she sometimes longed to feel the presence of other people, not necessarily to interact with them – but to have the possibility to do so. Instant messaging can be disruptive and attention seeking, so we wanted to explore a more minimal form of communication that invited but did not demand interaction or response. People’s varied uses of doorbells, phone-rings, and other one-bit forms of communication inspired us to design something that was open enough to allow patterns of behavior between users to emerge over time.

The behaviour, mechanical function and physical form were designed iteratively and in parallel, with each aspect influencing and at times defining another. Using sketching, illustrations, clay sculpting, and CAD modeling we played with different abstractions of the woodpecker’s shape to arrive at a form that is evocative and communicative. Cardboard was chosen as the primary material for both functional reasons – it’s lightweight – and emotive ones – it’s a warm material, inviting touch, and the visual effect of the end-grain echoes the complex patterns of feathers.

A static central core attached to the wall holds the electronics, and is surrounded by a lightweight shell which can be moved either manually or electromechanically. Springs are used to hold the outer shell upright and enable the mechanical pecking action. A manually initiated peck from one bird triggers a signal to the other, which is then pulled back by a solenoid and released, resulting in an unaided knock. Custom electronics housed inside the birds ensure that the technology is kept invisible and that it is the behaviour and interaction that is at the fore.