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City streets transformed

Stories come to life in San Francisco experiment


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We call this 'narrative archeology,' because we're peeling back the layers of the neighborhood.

By Jamie Beckett, Oct. 2005

Artists, writers, educators and others convening for this year's Digital Storytelling Festival in San Francisco will have the opportunity to participate in a unique storytelling experiment that uses emerging technology to merge the digital and physical worlds.

The experiment, called Scape the Hood, will transform a few seemingly drab city blocks into a landscape rich with sound, sights and stories. Using GPS-enabled HP iPAQ Pocket PCs and a location-based software platform developed by HP Labs, participants will be able to walk around the neighborhood and learn about its history and culture -- and about impending changes to its character.

Artists, mayonnaise and the ice cream truck

Over the course of four days beginning October 7, festival-goers may learn about how a painter's memories of his mother's death inspired a mural, or how artists transformed a canning plant into one of the nation's first live/work spaces or how a vibrant flea market brings together a diverse community.

Participants may hear the gurgle of a creek that ran where a street now lies or the jingle of the ice cream truck or the sound of trains that once carried corn oil to a mayonnaise factory that has since become a Starbucks.

"These stories aren't obvious from the streets," says Abbe Don, a researcher at HP Labs and executive producer of the project. "We call this 'narrative archeology,' because we're peeling back the layers of the neighborhood."

Previous HP Labs experiments

Scape the Hood follows on earlier HP Labs work on pervasive multimedia experiences. Working as part of the Mobile Bristol project, a test bed for technology and user research in mobility and future mobile services, scientists in HP Labs Bristol (UK) have recreated a series of these experiences including what is believed to be the world's first global positioning system "radio play."'

Researchers in Bristol, working with partners from Bristol University, developed the software used in Scape the Hood to place media files, such as sounds and images, in a location to blend in and augment a physical area. Associated software, loaded on to HP iPAQ handheld computers equipped with GPS satellite positioning, allows the user to access automatically the different media files as they move from place to place. An Open Source version of the software is available from Mobile Bristol .

Digital Storytelling Festival

Scape the Hood will take place on the streets surrounding KQED Public Broadcasting, which collaborated on the project through its Digital Storytelling Initiative with HP and a group of San Francisco Bay Area artists, storytellers and technologists including representatives from Antenna Theater, the Project Artaud artists' cooperative, San Francisco State University. The project was supported with a grant from HP.

The Digital Storytelling Festival, this year celebrating its 10th anniversary, aims to promote and evolve the art and practice of digital storytelling, offering workshops, panel discussions and speakers. KQED is the premier sponsor and host of this year's festival.

For more information, see the Digital Storytelling Web site.

Jamie Beckett is managing editor of the HP Labs Web site and a veteran newspaper reporter and editor.

Related links

» Related research at HP Labs
» Mobile Bristol
» Digital Storytelling Festival 2005
» KQED Digital Storytelling Initiative
» Get your hands on an iPAQ Pocket PC

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