Described as ‘the friendly mind-reading robot pet’, Stuart Nolan’s Ideobird is an exploration in how to convert the scientific basis behind magic into a tangible design prototype.

The Ideobird¬†was built around the ideomotor response, a well-known psychological phenomenon through which thoughts often manifest as microscopic movements. Nolan’s research of the phenomenon lead him to look at the way it has been utilised in the past, from talking to gods and spirits to a means of fortune telling. The bird itself was meant to represent the use of birds as psychic mediums in the past and their culturally ingrained connection to supernatural phenomena.

The bird perceives micromovements in the hands of the user, using them to determine what the user might be thinking about or how he might respond to a question. The bird then responds with chirps which can agree or disagree with its readings.

It’s a fascinating concept and an even more fascinating show of how a simple concept that has been around for the magical profession to use for ages can be translated into a research focus and fuel the creation of a usable object. The bird, of course, has not been the only outcome of Stuart’s research. he has been looking into gamifying the ideomotor response, talking to engineers and game designers as well as coming up with his own prototype in the form of OuijaBird, a sort of competitive game of moving a pendulum

Another interesting thing to me is the narrative element – specifically the ‘robotic pet’ idea. As I have mentioned, the bird carries with it its own kind of symbolism, while the way it has been personified within the performance element distracts from the fact that the magicians is essentially using high-tech tools to perform the tricks. This idea is a recurring theme throughout my research and came in very handy when it came to designing the outcome.