Ricky Bacon: Intel - Inside the Blue

 Ricky Bacon is Group Technology Director at Critical Mass.

Ricky Bacon is Group Technology Director at Critical Mass.

Ricky Bacon: Intel - Inside the Blue

As we head towards this year’s CreateTech Conference, we wanted to explore the issues, breakthroughs, challenges and opportunities faced by those on the front lines. So we’ve reached out to members of the Creative Technology community to hear about their projects, the way they integrate with traditional agency executives and what they see for the future of the advertising industry. Over the next few months will be sharing these stories with you here. We hope you’ll find them as illuminating and provocative as we did. First up is Ricky Bacon, Group Technology Director at Critical Mass. 
We live in an invisible ocean of waves: Cellular, WiFi, microwaves and ultraviolet. Waves that we can’t see, but that impact our lives every day. To celebrate the launch of the Intel Galileo we challenged Makers from around the world to create an ecosystem of robotic fish that can make this invisible world visible.

At Maker Faire Rome in 2013, Intel entered the Maker market with the announcement of the Intel Galileo. The Galileo is an Arduino Uno compatible hobbyist microcontroller using the new Intel Quark x86 CPU . Having missed the mobile revolution, Intel was positioning itself to become a player in the era of ubiquitous computing by introducing a line of small, low powered systems on a chip.

When Intel made the Galileo announcement I was working at Intel’s social agency of record, Noise. As a long time builder of robots we had started building a Maker culture at Noise. During one of our weekly engineering meetings a front-end developer and budding Maker, Wilkens, provided a key insight that led to my favorite project. Wilkins lamented, “Why is is so hard to find good tutorials on how to use new hardware?” In most cases, the materials are incomplete and sometimes completely wrong. Armed with this insight and kernel of an idea, we approached one of our creative directors, Nathan.

One thing I love about our industry is the cross-disciplinary collaboration that makes magic happen. Once we talked with Nathan about the problem with new hardware and lack of tutorials, he started reframing the insight into multiple ideas. We talked about what microprocessors are, what problems they solve, how people use them and what makes Intel’s entry into the market a big deal. We sketched and concepted these ideas in a variety of ways. I walked into work one day, and Nathan came over and said three words, “Inside the Blue.” Those three words were perfect. The phrase spoke to the brand, touching on the classic “Intel Inside” tagline. It even referenced Intel’s brand color. When Nathan first said, “Inside the Blue” I immediately thought of the ocean.  The phrase was on brand, but it also evoked something vast. Something deep. Something epic. Armed with an insight and the title phrase, we now needed to nail the idea.

Building a Better Robot

The insight became the need or the problem we were trying to solve. We wanted to build an educational platform for Makers; a way to present authoritative tutorials that demonstrated the power of the Intel Galileo. Nathan and I use storytelling to sell through concepts and pitch new ideas to clients. Using our winning working style to our advantage and acknowledging that tutorials are really dry, we used a tactical approach. We began to outline all of the things that the Intel Galileo could be used to do. What sort of inputs it could read. What sort of outputs it could generate. Keeping in mind the target audience for the Intel Galileo is Makers, the idea became clear. Microcontrollers can see things that we can’t. They see the world in a different way. And they can react to those inputs in a visual or audible way. We had an absolutely crazy idea.

We would create a new species of robots built using the Galileo. Galileo powered robots that could interact with the invisible world around us. The ocean of waves we can’t see, microwaves, WiFi waves, sound, etc. In order to bring this world to life we started gathering inspiration from the ocean. We found various types of marine life, ctenophores, jellyfish, whales, sunfish and others. We used paper printouts, noting how the creatures interacted with their natural environments. Then we built a list of sensors that the Galileo could use for input. The final step was to create a list of outputs the Galileo could generate to react to that sensor data.

Nathan and I recruited, a producer, Jordan, to help us mete out this undertaking. We locked ourselves in a conference room with stacks of printouts. We asked how a robotic jellyfish would interact with the world around it? What would a sunfish do? We started creating stories about the creatures. After we had formulated an ecosystem of robotic fish we moved onto the next phase.


Reaching the Hard to Reach

Makers are a demographic who are notoriously hard to reach. They are the hackers, the tinkerers. In order for Intel to speak to the Maker movement, we had to be authentic. The most authentic voice when speaking to Makers comes from other Makers. We reached out to some of the top Makers across the globe. We shared with them the story of using the new Galileo board to create an ecosystem of robotic fish and asked them to help visualize the invisible world around us. We had only one rule. Makers in the beta program would release their creations under a Creative Commons license, so the creatures would serve as a tool for education and inspiration for other Makers.

At Maker Faire NYC 2014, we launched Inside the Blue. We featured the Brain Coral, a 3D printed robot that reacted to people getting close to it and served as a communication hub for other fish. We also featured the Signal Fish, a 7’ long, fully autonomous flying robot fish, which was built by a creative technologist from France, a fashion designer from Germany and an electrical engineer from England. The Signal Fish flew around the Faire and “fed” or lit up around strong WiFi signals. We released all of the program materials under a Creative Commons license so other Makers could use, learn and remix the schematics, tutorials and concepts to make creatures of their own. And they did.

One group of Makers created a quadcopter jellyfish. Another Maker created a tank of flocking sardines that responded to brain waves. Another Maker created Sun Kelp, a “wind” chime that reacts to UV light.

The program was a smashing success. Intel Community page views increased 12,000% over the lifecycle of the program. Intel sold out of Galileo boards. And, we created the world’s first open source marketing program with Intel’s Inside the Blue.

At CreateTech 2016 I would love to see how groups use a combination of divergent and convergent thinking to tackle problems. How creatives and technologists collaborate to analyze and synthesize tough problems to reach consensus and create great experiences.