Social Radio

A tangible and music-based approach to stay connected with your friends


This work was developed at the Ambiente Group (Fraunhofer IPSI)
by Richard Etter, Carsten Röcker, and Jennifer Heier

Social Radio is a novel approach for mediating awareness in small intimate groups. Instead of traditional communication media, music is used to inform users about the presence and mood of multiple remote peers. The system consists of several smart artifacts and an underlying multi-user communication infrastructure.

Design of Social Radio

It was aimed to develop a system that enables members of small intimate groups to stay in touch with each other. Each user has several artifacts at home that represent their personal circle of friends. Each artefact represents one remote individual and displays awareness information about that person. The presence of a remote person is indicated using ambient light. In addition, an artifact communicates the mood of a remote user by re-playing the music the person is currently listening to. When several artifacts are placed next to each other, the artifacts take turns in playing music.


Since each Social Radio artifact represents an individual remote person, it is important that the artifacts can be distinguished and that each one has its own character. Social Radio offers the user three ways to personalize the artifacts. Firstly by choosing the color of the illuminated surface, secondly by choosing a symbol for the speaker part, and thirdly by attaching an individual picture. This image can be handwritten, a photo of the person, or a shared piece of memory. When the artifact is active the image is illuminated.

Tangible User Interface

In order to provide users with lightweight interaction mechanisms the artifacts are controlled via a tangible user interface. Depending on the position, an artifact is switched off or in different operating modes.



In each location, e.g., home, the system consists of several smart artifacts and a server. The server communicates wirelessly with the artifacts and manages them. Additionally, the server retrieves information from servers in remote locations and provides information for remote locations. The server uses the public API of iTunes in order to retrieve what a user listens to. The webserver provides playlists, audio data and presence information in standard XML via internet. This decentralized approach with multiple webservers was chosen, since it enables the system to support multiple locations and potentially several intimate groups without storing all data on one server.



We would like to thank the European Commission for supporting this activity as part of the Amigo project (contract IST-004182). We also thank our colleague Jennifer Heier for designing the Social Radio artifacts as well as Eugen Berlin and Vitaliy Rapp for their contribution to the production of a first series of artifacts.


R. Etter, C. Röcker
A Tangible User Interface for Multi-User Awareness Systems
Proceedings of the International Conference on Tangible and Embedded Interaction ‘07, Baton Rouge, USA, February 15-17, 2007.

C. Röcker, R. Etter
Social Radio: A Music-Based Approach to Emotional Awareness Mediation
Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on Intelligent User Interfaces, Honolulu, USA, January 28-31, 2007.

(Social Radio on the cover of the TEI 2007 proceedings)