Cinder is a mixed-reality architectural interface for Building Management Systems that enables people to interact with and make sense of a building’s sustainability infrastructure.

Deployed in 2016 in a new school, Trumpington Community College, Cambridge, Cinder takes the form of a virtual cat that thrives alongside the high-tech building’s sustainability systems. Part interactive mascot, part avatar for the building, she responds in real-time to the state of the environment and its occupants.

Interacting with Cinder in augmented reality mirror and laptops

People play and interact with Cinder in the school’s main space, where she appears on a large ‘augmented reality’ mirror that ‘reveals’ her in the physical space of the atrium. Her behaviour and appearance are affected in realtime by sensor data, and by how people interact with her. Sometimes, she darts between people and holds out her paws to friendly gestures, and she might even shrink or grow. Other times, when she’s been too active or not had enough, to eat she scampers away, disappearing into the network to hunt for ‘food’ generated in realtime by the solar panels on the roof.

Cinder project development

On sunny days, when more energy is produced by the photovoltaics, students will be able to feed her more food as she appears on their laptops, begging for attention. In winter, however, when solar food is scarce, her energy levels go down and she might be less motivated to play.

Over time, she changes size, colour and personality, responding as the surrounding environment changes and people of all ages interact with her. Every now and then you might even catch her dreaming of electric mice or donning a cap to celebrate a special occasion.

Cinder was developed with assistance from incoming students, who will live with her for the next few years. Through a series of interactive workshops they helped determine her appearance, her behaviour and even some ‘easter eggs’ that appear under specific rare conditions.

The project is commissioned by City of Cambridge Education Foundation for Trumpington Community College.

Many thanks to Rob Hemmings, Random Quark, Sadam Fujioka, Levent Ali, Khusro Karim, Kamal Ackarie.