Gravity Well explores how interactive technology in the aquatic domain can support the experience of underwater play. The system extends the interpretation of interactive technology used in underwater arts, aquatic sports, commercial diving and space and defense-related altered-gravity conditions (such as zero-G flights and activities at the International Space Station), which usually focus on enhanced human performance analysis and/or real-time environment feedback, and into the realm of human-aquatic-performance-analysis, and actual in-water, real-time robotic human motion mimicry.

The Gravity Well system offers novel ways of simultaneously visualizing and manifesting underwater play actions in real-time through direct engagement and communications with play objects. The catch is – that players must get wet in order to experience and initiate the system. Interactions must occur between three dynamic bodily systems: the human body, the robotic body and the body of water to achieve underwater play.  Each component of the interaction environment influences the overall performance and flow experience. Together, the interactive environment systems for underwater play enable aquabatics: describing a state of being and a specific motility that is unique to this domain.
First stage testing of the Gravity Well system was completed in 2013. It showed that it is possible to conceive of displaying aquabatics interactions outside of the body and in a non-virtual way. It does this through play objects called ‘explorer fish’ which are tactile aquatic-robots capable of human performance mimicry. The Gravity Well system is experienced in a number of bodily ways:  through immersion, saturation, buoyancy, pressure-change and sensory stimulation through altered lighting, sound and touch.
The first phase design installation supports general public interaction. It comprises a shallow-water interface that is designed to attract attention, encourage curiosity for underwater play and build upon their imaginings for full-bodied interactivity. The underwater play interaction is a game of skill, and interpretation of the flow experience. Players are challenged to refine motor skills, coordination and interpretative dance actions through water. The experience is augmented by tactile input/feedback from the play objects and the water. Spectators and players are provided a sensory rich experience through real-time movement control of remote play objects with internal lighting displays showing the level of underwater play exertion and vigor.
There are two types of play objects called ‘explorer fish’. The parent play object is called the ‘mother fish’. It measures the human-robotic-aquatic interaction experience and communicates the real-time accelerometer and gyroscope date via Bluetooth through the water to control one or more remote ‘baby fish’. Spectators and plays delight in real-time movement control of the ‘baby fish’ movement response, which mimics and synchronizes with the ‘mother fish’. Together their actions behave like a collective school of fish, receiving direct commands from the parent. Lights augment the resulting movement. The more vigorous the interactions, the brighter the LED display.
Finally, the shallow-water ‘explorer fish’ have some in-built “personality” to encourage further social interactions. For example, if a player attempts to drown the ‘mother fish’ by pushing her all the way to the bottom, the ‘baby fish’ will spin on the spot until you stop. If you stop interacting with the ‘mother fish’, the ‘baby fish’ will dim their lights, and eventually sleep. When they ‘wake up’, they vibrate and flash for a few seconds, to let the player know, that they are ready for underwater play.
With thanks to Robin Asberg Garen, Lucy McRae and Brighid O’Doherty for their technical support. We also acknowledge the Exertion Games Lab members for their valuable feedback.
Dr. Sarah Jane Pell, Florian ‘Floyd’ Mueller


Pell, S., Mueller, F. 2013. Designing mixed gravity exertion games for humans in space. IAC 64th International Astronautical Congress, 24th Symposium on Space Activity and Society (E5) New architectural, Strategic and Design Approaches to the Future of Human Space Flight (1). 1 page.

Pell, S., Mueller, F. 2013. Gravity Well: Underwater Play. CHI 2013. Interactivity. 4 pages. 30 sec preview videoVideo.