Speed of Sound
Speed of Sound allows a playful investigation of the difference between the speed of sound and the speed of light. The exhibit is in two sections. One for audible and visible signals, and located at the edge of the pier. Close to the seawall is the user station, consisting of a button and a graphics panel. When the user pushes the button the signals are activated. The sound reaches a user's ear about half a second after the light flashes.
The NSF had issued a grant to the Exploratorium to create a set of interactive experiences around San Francisco's waterfront. The aim was provide users with guides to encourage focused and sustained observations of the natural and built surroundings. The exhibits were not to disturb the historical surroundings, and would ideally not create more structures along the piers.
Richard Brown, the Exploratorium staff neuroscientist, had the idea that a long-range sound investigation would do nicely in the sparsely populated landscape around San Francisco's Fort Mason, where the project was installed.
The exhibit is in two sections. One for audible and visible signals, and located at the edge of the pier. Close to the seawall is the user station, consisting of a button and a graphics panel.
a visual indicator
The design of a visual signal for the user was a tricky problem. For a time we attempted to work with mechanical semaphores, which seemed like a credible signal but presented mechanical and aesthetic hurdles. In the end a flashing light emerged as a simpler and more effective method. At dusk it turned out to be very beautiful as well, as the flash reflected over the water while the bell softly rang in the distance.
a non-intrusive sound
For the audio signal I settled on a nautical bell similar to those heard from nearby buoys. We combined the bell and the light at the edge of a pier. From the user’s standpoint 500 feet away, it was well visible across the water.
KQED on Speed of Sound
Bryan Connell had become interested in how to integrate the exhibits more intimately with the surrounding built environment. He designed a graphic for Speed of Sound that had users call the number to a phone (415.202.3809) installed at the Golden Gate Bridge, close to the foghorn there. The foghorn can be heard in the phone a few seconds before the sound reaches the user through the air. This additional interactive effectively attaches a skill building component to Speed of Sound.