The winners of the IK Prize 2014 tell us what they’ve been up to so far…

The Workers standing outside Tate Britain. Left to right: David Di Duca, Ross Cairns and Tommaso Lanza
Left to right: David Di Duca, Ross Cairns and Tommaso Lanza

Hello, we’re The Workers, winners of the IK Prize 2014, Tate Britain’s award for digital innovation. This blog will document our progress as we work towards delivering an ambitious digital project in the summer called After dark.

Before we tell you about the project, we should introduce ourselves. The Workers is a digital product design studio established in 2011 by Ross Cairns and Tommaso Lanza after leaving the Royal College of Art. Since then, we have been fortunate to work on a range of fantastic projects: we have built apps for museums, websites, and interactive installations. We love to subvert technology to break common expectations and delight audiences and users. On the After dark project we are joined by our friend and collaborator David Di Duca, a fantastically talented designer, architect and producer.

We’ve been overwhelmed by the reaction to the prize announcement in the media and by the public. The IK Prize represents a courageous commitment from Tate and our biggest project to date. The support received so far has been truly encouraging so we’re incredibly excited to get going!

After dark will deploy four camera-equipped robots in the galleries of TateBritain. These robots will be remotely controlled by members of the public in turns through an online queuing system and stream a first-person, real-time video feed to all visitors on the After dark website.

IK Prize After Dark 2014

The core of the idea for After dark had been floating around the studio for a while, but it was one of those things that seemed to fall in the “wouldn’t it be nice” category.

At the beginning of 2013, we became involved with a project that required us to frequently work on location inside Tate Modern. A few times we found ourselves in the gallery before and after opening hours, and were in awe of how different the space felt without any visitors. It is hard to imagine being the only people left inside a massive space like Tate Modern, surrounded by all those amazing works of art. All of a sudden you become more aware of the importance of the place, so that it becomes contemplative and playful at the same time.

The Workers filming in the galleries at night
Filming in the galleries at night

When the opportunity arose to pitch our idea for the IK Prize at Tate Britain we jumped at the chance. We were overjoyed to be shortlisted, and to take part in a short film explaining our idea – shot in the museum, at night. But, we were truly blown away at actually winning the competition.

The project is well under development at this stage and we have been getting advice from a number of really cool tech companies with expertise in building robots. One of those that we have had a chance to visit is RAL Space (the English NASA) who are working on Mars rovers (yes, the planet) while testing them in the courtyard of their office, which not-so-incidentally looks like Mars: a mountain of red dirt and rocks. Brilliant!

RAL Space rover prototype

Of course we are setting out build something much simpler than a Mars rover and designed to work in a known and more predictable environment, but having had a chance to see and use a number of robotic devices made us more aware of the challenges ahead of us, particularly when deploying these devices in a museum!

RAL Space rover prototype
RAL Space rover prototype

For now, let’s just say that we were blown away by the impressive array of prototypes scattered around their lab – wish we could take a couple of those back to our studio to play with.

There is still a lot of work ahead: finalising the ‘bot’ design, field testing in the gallery and figuring out the best way to go about a myriad possible technology choices.

Too many things to mention here, so stay tuned for more as we progress towards realising this fantastic project: After dark!

The Workers are Tommaso Lanza, Ross Cairns and David Di Duca.

The Workers received a £10,000 prize and the £60,000 development budget to turn their project into a reality at Tate Britain in the summer 2014.