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At Dutch Festival, Visitors Used RFID to Critique Art, Share Opinions

Thousands of attendees at the 10-day STRP Festival used passive tags to record their reactions to dozens of interactive art installations, as well as share them on Facebook and Twitter.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Dec 20, 2010The STRP Festival, a 10-day event filled with art, music and technology, takes place in the Netherlands' city of Eindhoven, attracting thousands of people to its concerts, galleries and conference tracks. This year, STRP—which ran from Nov. 18 to 28—introduced eSphere, an RFID-enabled system that enables attendees to express their feelings and opinions about featured artwork, and also share their reactions regarding the artwork and the event with their larger social networks on Facebook and Twitter.

Approximately 4,000 visitors participated in eSphere, which is a small portion of the 30,000 people who attended this year's event. But many STRP attendees come only for one of the many large music concerts featured at the festival, rather than the event's art installations, where eSphere was used. In addition, organizers say, this year represented what amounted to a pilot project, intended to evaluate the technology and determine what it could enable. They expect many more attendees will participate in eSphere and its related applications at the 2011 STRP Festival.

Festival staffers carried a netbook wired to two small Mifare tag readers and a camera. Attendees could hold their RFID wristband to one of the readers, and the staffer would then snap their photos, which were saved to their eSphere profiles.
Just as the evolution of the Internet to its current phase—known as Web 2.0—enabled individuals to easily connect with each other and with online content, the next evolutionary phase, sometimes dubbed Web 3.0, links the physical and online worlds. This is sometimes referred to as the Internet of Things, but it's not limited to using RFID to identify and track tagged merchandise or assets. RFID can also act as a bridge between artifacts—or, literally, pieces of art—and people, says Marjoleine Timmer, the festival's technology curator.

Toward that end, Timmer explains, the chief purpose of the eSphere application was to allow visitors a means of critiquing artwork installed at the festival.

According to Timmer, the eSphere system is based on 13.56 MHz passive RFID tags and readers, compliant with NXP Semiconductors' Mifare specifications, including the ISO 14443A standard. The eSphere software was developed by STRP and its consultants, including technologists and RFID specialists from Delft University of Technology and Technical University Eindhoven.

While planning their time at STRP prior to arrival, visitors could learn about the eSphere program on the STRP Web site, and were encouraged to create eSphere profiles, containing their name (or an alias) and any personal data they wished to share (such as their gender or date of birth). Doing this, Timmer explains, would create a profile in the eSphere database, as well as provide access to Web-based day-planning software that attendees could utilize to sketch out a schedule for each day of the event. They could then access this software on site, using a smart phone or a laptop, to guide them to events or conference tracks or performance-art installations.

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