Emotions in flux

Quartz was inspired in part by services and sites such as Omegle and Chatroulette. These services connect two strangers and allow them to communicate via text, video, and audio. We wanted to explore the idea of 'single-serving relationships'.

We wanted to emulate the kind of thing Omegle and Chatroulette did, but over a different medium. We chose the telephone. We set out to create a project that connects two strangers to each other on the phone and.

Using Node.js and Twilio, we built a system that programatically initiates a conference call between two given nummbers.

This worked pretty well. We established a goal at this point. We wanted to have a physical phone that individuals could approach. As the user came within proximity the phone was to ring. Once the user picked up the phone, it would ring a random number from a list - connecting the individual with someone random. We needed to source these numbers so we set up a web form on my server where individuals could enter their number for the project - we posted this on our Twitters, Facebooks and generally spread the link around to gain numbers. The numbers were added to a database. The script was updated to output a random number from our database as the second number to connect (in response.xml). The first number would be the physical phone we wanted individuals to interact with.

We began constructing the physical phone. This comprimised of:

  • An Arduino
    • We hooked up a WiFi-enabled Arduino to an ultrasonic sensor. When something got close enough for the ultrasonic sensor to pick up, the Arduino sent a signal (over MQTT) to the Node.js script, triggering the system.
  • A mobile phone
    • Once the system triggered, the script would call this phone, causing it to ring.

We housed all this inside a wooden dummy phone we constructed. We also added a 'retro' handsfree handset, giving off the overall appearence of a proper land-line phone.

We deployed this in a cafe, setting the phone on a plinth. We got a couple of pretty cool conversations, that can be heard in the video above.

We took the entire system online in the end. Effectively a user calls a number, they are then connected to a random number in the database. Their own number is also automatically added to the database. The project, which is currently live, can be checked out here: Quartz