A group of students at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design (CIID) has just shown off a new device called the Skube, which aims to make listening to music a more physical and social experience. We spoke with Andrew Spitz, one of the designers, who shared with us some development sketches and some pictures of the project's early prototypes.
The most interesting aspects emerge when two or more Skubes are put together
At root, the Skube is a sort of jukebox, using Spotify to play music from sideloaded Last.fm playlists. In ordinary use, it cycles through users' lists — when flipped over it automatically switches to Discover mode, using Last.fm's API to find similar music. Turning the device on its front pauses the music, while a quick double-tap tells it to skip the current track. But the most interesting aspects of the Skube emerge when two or more are put together.
What the device most resembles is a Chinese takeout carton, but its asymmetrical case design allows units to be placed flush against one another. A magnet detects when two units are in close proximity, causing them to sync their output — the result is a multi-device loudspeaker, much like that provided by the iPhone app Seedio. In this set-up, one Skube can be used to control the rest, and users are able to add tracks to their Last.fm profiles by pressing a "<3" button on the rear of their device.
At the heart of each Skube is the Arduino prototyping platform, a simple, single-board computer beloved of hobbyists and hardware hackers. This central component connects to an XBee wireless adapter, which in turn communicates with a central server powered by the media-focused programming environment Max/MSP. Spitz is quick to point out that this centralized model is only for the prototyping stage, and that any final product would be capable of operating independently — still, he's enthusiastic about the possibilities opened up by Max/MSP, which replaces lines of code with a visual system of modules and links. "Max/MSP is a fantastic tool to prototype and create complicated systems relatively quickly," he explains. "The best part of it is that it's real-time, so you can see everything change live as you massage your parameters for the right feeling."
Asked whether he and his fellow designers have any plans to produce the Skube on a wider scale, Spitz is positive, noting that the team has been pleased with the concept's reception so far and is looking to turn it into a viable product: "There has been some commercial interest, but nothing serious quite yet." Kickstarter is certainly a possibility, and the team is currently weighing up the pros and cons of going down the crowdfunding route.
Kickstarter is certainly a possibility
Whether there's a market for the Skube remains to be seen. Even if there isn't, it's still a great example of product design incorporating important aspects of contemporary, internet-connected life — in this case music streaming and scrobbling — while refusing to follow the familiar regime of buttons, toggles, and screens. Head over to Spitz's blog for more details, and to check out his other work, or browse the sites of his collaborators, Andrew Nip, Ruben van der Vleuten, and Malthe Borch.