DAPTEC Project Translates the Data Story of Cardiff’s Flat Holm Island
March 28, 2022 — As the location for the world’s first radio transmission by Guglielmo Marconi in 1897, Flat Holm Island has strong historical links to the world of communication and data transmission. Now, an 18-month data physicalization project funded by the Welsh Government’s SMARTExpertise fund is launching its exhibit Data Impressions from Flat Holm Island at Techniquest on March 28th, 2022.
DAPTEC’s Flat Holm Project has been led by Dr. Fiona Carroll, Program Director for Computing for Interaction and Computing with Creative Design at the School of Technologies with Jon Pigott, Senior Lecturer Artist Designer Maker at Cardiff School of Art and Design at Cardiff Metropolitan University, Paul Newbury, co-founder and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of Yard — a Cardiff-based technical marketing agency, and in partnership with Cardiff Harbour Authority.
Flat Holm Island is located only five miles off the Cardiff coastline and is open for public visits from May until September; however, due to the challenge of visiting the island, tourists and Cardiff residents do not really appreciate the environmental and historical story of Flat Holm.
Cardiff Metropolitan’s team and Yard have worked tirelessly through 18 months of Covid life with Flat Holm’s custodians, Cardiff Harbour Authority, to create a unique Flat Holm data physicalization exhibit. The exhibit will help connect visitors to Flat Holm’s rich, historical, environmental and meteorological data stories in a colorful and interactive way. The exhibit includes:
Interactive DAPTEC Map
The interactive DAPTEC map is a large wall piece that presents ‘on user interaction’ impressions of flora and fauna data from Flat Holm Island. It presents data from the island warden’s daily counts of gulls, shelducks, spiders, butterflies, moths and slow worms. The map is made of hundreds of tiny LED lights which present distinct blocks of vibrant colours and, working with etched line drawings of the flora and fauna, build effective impressions of life across the island.
There are three weather automata (one for the rain, one for the wind and one for the sun data). These weather automatas are made up of ten rotating prisms, each prism has three faces presenting different levels of sunshine (low, medium and high). The weather automata present data directly captured from the weather station on Flat Holm Island (almost real time — a 15-minute delay).
The DAPTEC’s Flat Holm Project has also enabled the Cardiff Met and YARD team to produce a new data physicalization framework and toolkit via the design and development process. Through analyzing decades of data from Flat Holm’s environmental data records, wardens’ logbooks and yearly gull count records, the research team have explored the concept of data physicalization.
Depending on its form, data physicalization can traditionally be touched, heard, seen, tasted or smelled in its final product. Data physicalization also includes the process behind the transformation of specific data values into its physical product. However, the DAPTEC team has now coined the term data impression. A data impression is a new way to engage people in data; like the art impressionists of the late 1800s (who broke away from painting a reflection of real life), the DAPTEC team has stepped away from the rendering of detailed and complex data presentations and created an ‘impression’ of the Flat Holm data. These data impression exhibits (Interactive DAPTEC Map and weather automata) are aesthetically appealing and aim to engage visitors in the capture of those fleeting data moments, as opposed to traditional physical data representation of dashboards of endless and complex graphs.
Paul Newbury, co-founder and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of Yard said: “As a specialized data agency, we are really excited to be involved in this innovative project. From analyzing the data using advanced machine learning techniques, to the fresh approach being designed to physical display of data, this partnership has brought some of the most technical and artistic data techniques available and making them accessible to all who have an interest in the island.”
A spokesperson for Cardiff Council said: “Data can be incredibly powerful, and this collaboration is a really exciting way of harnessing that power to bridge the 5 miles of water that separate Flat Holm’s unique environment from the people of Cardiff. It is important to us that we provide opportunities for people to engage with the island when they are not able to visit and this project helps achieve this in a unique way”
James Summers, Head of Projects for Techniquest commented: “We’re really excited to see this new approach to data visualization sited at Techniquest for a few months, as a temporary exhibit. It’s always fascinating to see a prototype come to life when visitors are able to experience it for themselves — and hopefully it will give them a great insight into the ecology and climate of Flat Holm, an island that’s right on our doorstep, just a few miles across the channel from our site.”
By 2025 it is estimated that there will be 175ZB of data in existence and we have reached an age where we are connected all the time. It is now more important than ever that we identify valuable environmental data and create thought-provoking visual stories to help trigger emotional connections and interest from the public, as data has the power to help raise awareness on ecological issues and contribute to the climate change narrative.
It is hoped that this exhibit at Techniquest achieves an emotive response, as Flat Holm Island is a designated Local Nature Reserve (LNR), Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Special Protection Area (SPA) that needs to be protected, respected and at the same time connected to help maintain its future as a place of interest. The exhibit shows how we can still be connected to an isolated and high-value wildlife area whilst protecting Flat Holm’s unique ecosystem.
For further information on the project and its team, visit DAPTEC at www.daptec.org.
Source: Cardiff Metropolitan University