Just started a mini natural regeneration experiment

I’ve written up here the motivation and why it interests me as an experimental psychologist. Watch this space if you are going to be around for the next 50 years or so!

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Idea Fund Award – geometric expandable structures

We are delighted to announce an ‘I’ve got an Idea’ Fund award to Isle of Arran resident, Alistair Reid for his idea of geometry inspired, expandable structures for temporary packable accommodation.

Alistair has been experimenting with different geometric structures which could be quickly and easily transformed from a default state as a box or shipping crate to form robust, temporary accommodation for seasonal workers on an island where there is a severe shortage of affordable housing. More generally, although in emergencies and natural disaster responses, tents can provide useful, very fast shelter, there is a need for more robust and secure facilities.

Having explored different platonic solid structures, the Idea Fund award will enable Alistair to purchase the laser cutter he needs to construct larger prototypes which test whether his ideas will work on ever more realistic scales.

He will add the laser cutter to the 3D printers, hand tools and electronics available via a ‘makerspace‘ which Alistair is setting up on the island for access by local school kids, hobbyists and the creative community.

We wish Alistair well in creating and testing his interesting ideas at the next scale up and look forward to hearing about his experiences along the way.

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Early Hate Mail

Whilst working in y Gaer (Brecon Museum) recently, one of my colleagues encountered this startling exhibit of early hate mail. As the UK Government seeks to introduce the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to limit disruptive protest, I found it an interesting moment of reflection on how the suffragettes were viewed by society, let alone how they were punished by the authorities for their actions. Radical change will always disrupt something and it won’t be comfortable.

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Domestic Heat Trial in Rural Wales

I have just completed a report on a small domestic heating trial (12 households) which we ran here in rural Wales during January and February. Our aim was to explore a way that households could reduce the energy consumption of oil or LPG powered central heating and improve occupants’ thermal comfort by introducing simple, supplementary, conductive and radiant IR ‘spot heating’ devices which focus on heating people rather than space. The experiment affected both behaviour and thinking and shed new light on what it means to keep warm. The results point to possible techniques for reducing household energy whilst improving thermal comfort – particularly in older, poorly insulated housing which is unlikely to be adequately fixed for some while.

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What do portraits say?

Great project with Larks and Ravens working with Brecon Beacons College students creating alternative stories and portraits in response to the historical figures which dominate the Victorian Courtroom at y Gaer Museum in Brecon. Exhibition open to the public from March 24th until April 5th.

We find the Courtroom a rich space of symbols of power, justice, equality and patriarchy which are interesting for artists (and this irrational psychologist!) to explore and challenge.

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Not all experiments work….

10 years ago today – experimenting with a different form of lightweight local travel. Decided, on encountering the first hill that it needed battery assist and a better weighted front wheel or it alarmingly came off the ground on any slope or fast turn. But we survived and had a lot of fun.

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Latest ‘I’ve got an Idea’ Fund Award – Pigfoot Theatre

We are delighted to announce our first award of 2022 to the Pigfoot Theatre team for their energy-harvesting dancefloor project which will convert performers’ live footsteps into electricity to power their shows’ lighting.

Pigfoot Theatre is a carbon-neutral theatre company, dedicated to making collaborative, sustainable theatre about the climate & ecological crisis.

Their idea is to build an energy-harvesting dancefloor made up of tiles which convert performers’ live footsteps into electricity to power their shows’ lighting. The floor will generate
more power than the bicycle powered-generators (which they have been using) for less physical effort (a footstep, rather than pedaling). A small number of such dance floors exist but are very expensive to hire. Pigfoot’s goal is to create a set up which is highly modular and can be easily transported and installed without the cost of involving specialist technicians. This means other small theatres like theirs could afford to hire and use the tiles.

The idea of using a dancefloor to generate power echoes the main message of Pigfoot’s work. As Bea, their Director, explains “One person moving or dancing generates a small amount of energy, while a group of people moving together generates so much more. In much the same way, individual actions have a small impact in reducing carbon emissions, but collective action – or many people taking the same action – can create a significant, tangible shift in how our society

Pigfoot team engineer, Jack, has so far created 3 prototype tiles with incorporated battery storage which they have tested successfully in one performance. They now want to experiment whether they can innovate a more efficient method of energy generation.

Pigfoot has already started developing one show, HOT IN HERE (a carbon-neutral dance-party), which will use the dancefloor. This show will hopefully tour in Autumn 2022, meaning that the dancefloor would be shared with over 4,000+ public audiences and participants in 12 localities across England and Wales.

We really liked Pigfoot’s idea and their team’s experimental approach to developing and testing ways of realising it fits the spirit of our fund. We look forward to a chance to experience dancing on their tiles at some point.

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Domestic Heat Trial starts in rural Wales

On my way to first installation – chilly

In partnership with Talybont on Usk Energy, I am running a small trial here in rural Wales to explore a different way of thinking about domestic heat energy and thermal comfort. The trial switches focus from heating entire spaces to heating our bodies directly – hopefully keeping us warmer but using less energy – particularly energy generated by fossil fuels.

Central Heating has created a mindset that keeping ourselves warm requires keeping the entire air space in our homes to a constant temperature (18-20 degs or more) even though air at that temperature doesn’t actually heat us but simply stops us losing body heat. Air space heating is also very vulnerable to any draughts, high ceilings or poor insulation.

Yesterday, I installed the trial equipment in the first 4 of our 12 volunteer households. The houses range in age from the 1700’s (!) to 2003. 9 have oil or LPG Central Heating and 3 have electric radiators only. I am also now including (on an ad hoc basis) a cottage with a recently installed air source heat pump which is struggling to heat the property above 18 degs so needs some auxiliarly form of person centred heating when the resident is just sitting.

The trial equipment consists of:-

  1. A 500w Infrared panel – which propagates heat waves in the same way as radiation from the sun, an Aga or a log burner – it doesn’t heat the air directly but heats objects with thermal mass like people, furniture or walls. The objects absorb the heat and then radiate that back to warm the surrounding air.
  2. A 60w electrically heated seat cover which heats through conduction.
  3. A battery heated gilet which uses a 36Wh portable power battery kept in a pocket.
Panels and seat covers ready to go

Originally I planned to ask the participants to turn their Central Heating down by a couple of degrees for the period of the trial but quickly realised this wasn’t a good idea as several were already feeling chilly at times. Instead they are invited to experiment with the 3 different forms of person-centred heat and see what difference that makes to how warm they feel and how it compares to their normal heating regimes. I will be pinging them from time to time to collect ‘in the moment’ perceptions on their thermal comfort as related to their current context and activity.

I am collecting pre and post trial energy consumption data and logging the kWh used by the Infrared panels. But, given the difficulty in measuring oil use (no meter) together with wildly varying outside temperatures, the trial will not provide very useful quantitative data but it will provide really useful qualitative data to guide thinking and possibly further studies.

The first 4 participants will have the equipment for a fortnight before I conduct post-trial interviews and the equipment gets transferred to the next 4 households.

You can read a fuller background on the thinking behind the trial here.

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Update on ‘Idea Fund’ project – Dawn Chorus

Great to hear this week from Nic & Swen that, having overcome a whole raft of technical (and other issues), they have finally got their website up and running offering us a ‘dawn chorus of the day’ recorded every single day where they live in an ancient mixed tree woodland near Truro in Cornwall.

Helped by their ‘I’ve got an idea’ fund award, they are now well on their way of achieving their project goals:

  1. Recordings of bird songs that members of the public can download from a website in order to help their well-being and mental health
  2. Establish a long running citizen science project providing quality data to researchers for future reference and work on bird studies
  3. Creation of a record over time of changes in bird population in certain localities in Cornwall to track the impact of climate change and the deepening ecological emergency

Having worked on many technology trials myself, I know well that there are always endless unanticipated problems but the Idea Fund is about people finding imaginative DIY approaches to overcoming the hurdles to achieve their idea – and having fun in the process. Well done Nic and Swen and the birds! At least they will no longer have to get up at unearthly hours in the summer to do the recordings manually.

The ‘I’ve got an idea’ fund is currently open for applications

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Update on ‘Idea Fund’ Project : Sound Gadgets

Delighted to receive an update from ‘I’ve got an Idea Fund’ award winner Lee Holder’s ‘Sound Gadgets’ project.

Lee is experimenting with a combination of 3D printing and motion, touch, light and distance sensors to prototype customised interfaces for young people with disabilities to create their own music at home. Their feedback will then enable Lee to make further adaptations and improvements. As well as opening music making to a wider number of people with disabilities, The Music Works hopes ‘Sound Gadgets’ can provide instrument blueprints, code and building information to other organisations in the UK.

Dom – happy to share his first go with the prototype interface

What a brilliant project…

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