OnQ Blog

Inventor Nicholas Hanna on art, technology, and why they’re a perfect fit [VIDEO]

Oct 1, 2015

Qualcomm products mentioned within this post are offered by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.

Inventor Nicholas Hanna is using the DragonBoard Development Kit and 4G LTE  to power the Trikewriter, a human-powered wirelessly connected vehicle that, as it moves, drips water on the ground to “print” messages. He’s also part of the Qualcomm Inventor Lab: a select group of visionaries who combine creativity and Qualcomm technology to build inventions that are a lot like magic. If you’re heading to the Maker Faire in San Diego this October 3rd and 4th, you’ll be able to meet Nicholas and see the Trikewriter in action.

Nicholas spoke to us about how he combines art and technology in his work:

I do like technology. I think it's something that is in the hearts of certain people. I've always been interested in taking things apart and putting them back together again. I was always interested in computers and seeing how you can get them to do things or perform in certain ways. I'm just a nerd at heart. It comes out through the work that I do.

When I graduated in 2009 with an architectural graduate degree, it was the worst possible time to graduate with any degree, but especially architecture, because of the economic crisis. Everyone I'd known who had graduated the year before was getting fired. It was clear that moving to New York, which is sort of the thing that you do after finishing Yale architecture, was not in the cards.

I decided to go to Beijing. I was there 2 years, and it was fantastic. I met Niu Miao, a sculptor who asked me to collaborate with him on The Candlelight Project, and it blossomed into a full collaboration. I had such a blast doing that, working with electronics, designing and creating an interactive space. I thought, "forget architecture. This is way more interesting than sitting in front of a desk 16 hours a day."

That was the first interactive art project I did, and then I started building the Trikewriter in Beijing. I call what I do ‘performative devices,’ because I'm really interested in how you bring technology and programming code, mechanisms, space, and aesthetics together so that devices perform in a way that is interesting, beautiful, and elegant.

I've been with Maker Faire for a couple of years now. Online, you’ll find a huge bunch of independent makers and organizations that share projects and tips and documentation on how to do things. That's an incredible resource when you're doing the kind of work that I'm doing, because you get to springboard off the discoveries of other people. You can take the pieces and put them together in a way that’s interesting to you, and then someone else can see them and put pieces together in a different way.

The technology we have today is increasingly mute and increasingly invisible. You have a phone in your pocket. It's an incredibly complex and capable device that's teeming with activity all the time, even when you think it's off. It's doing a ton of stuff in your pocket when the screen's off, all the time.

What I try to express with my use of technology is that the amazing performance that these devices are capable of, and the activity that's happening all the time. The air around us is absolutely dense and saturated with wireless communication, in the form of radio and TV signals but also text messages and the Internet itself—but it's completely incorporeal and ethereal. You don't feel it in any way.

But you can plug into it with these devices that Qualcomm makes just for that. They're partially responsible for filling up the airwaves with all this data and bits and bytes. The Trikewriter is a way of snatching one of these messages out of the air and putting it into real space for a moment, but still using a material that’s ethereal and contemporary.