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Lost and Found Compass – Jon Rogers and Justin Marshall

This project arose out of discussions between Justin and Jon about the ubiquity of location services and the tracking of people (and things) without their explicit knowledge. The right to be lost, and found when you want to be, is an ongoing debate that has been brought into focus with the widening uptake of Apple’s AirTag technology,[1] [2] [3]. There is an inherent tension in this offer between the value of locating lost things and tracking (not lost) people. Notwithstanding our recognition of this tension, we sought to explore notions of tracking and wayfinding in as simple a way as possible, through creating a pair of personal compasses whose only function is to point to each other. Conventional compasses were the inspiration for this project, but whereas traditional compasses orient the user through the magnetic pull to the earth’s north pole, the lost and found compass operates within the localised, bespoke relational network of two users. 

Our design proposition seeks to emphasise physical and material interactions: a moving magnetic arrow influences the patterns of iron filings to indicate direction, you need to shake the device to encourage the iron filings to be attracted to the arrow and so make the direction in which it is pointing properly visible. That makes for a slower and more reflective experience, distinct from the instant and continuous tracking within digital tracking apps. In this way a ‘friction’ is created through a physical tangible interaction that is missing in the user experience of live location apps. The physical act of shaking is the basis of a simple form of communication/notification. Through one person shaking their compass to find the other person the other gets a vibration to know they are being sought. In addition, the locations of the compasses will be updated with a frequency that relates to how far apart they are (i.e. if they are within close proximity they will update every few seconds, if they are further away the update will be less frequent, every minute or so.) Hence, just as the direction indication is approximate, proximity is also implied rather than made explicit.

[1] Alex Bellon, Alex Yen, and Pat Pannuto. 2023. TagAlong: A Free, Wide-Area Data-Muling Service Built on the AirTag Protocol. In Proceedings of the 20th ACM Conference on Embedded Networked Sensor Systems (SenSys ’22), 782–783.

[2] Thomas Roth, Fabian Freyer, Matthias Hollick, and Jiska Classen. 2022. AirTag of the Clones: Shenanigans with Liberated Item Finders. In 2022 IEEE Security and Privacy Workshops (SPW), 301–311.

[3] Mira Weller, Jiska Classen, Fabian Ullrich, Denis Waßmann, and Erik Tews. 2020. Lost and found: Stopping bluetooth finders from leaking private information. In WiSec 2020 – Proceedings of the 13th ACM Conference on Security and Privacy in Wireless and Mobile Networks, 184–194.