Tely: Tele-Absence

Digital Media: Telepresence (Fall 2020-21, Harvard GSD VIS-2223)

Student: Davide Zhang
Instructors: Allen Sayegh, Humbi Song

Tely is a device that orients to the position of a distant person in real-time, conveying presence through absence.

The presence of the distant person is no longer materialized, but passively felt; it is very figural, but at the same time it registers the absence of figurality of the distant presence. The device moves when there is motion from the distant person, and it stays fairly quiet when they are static – it highlights the absence more than the presence. The concept of this project was inspired by The Thousand Dreams of Stellavista, by JG Ballard, and the theorization of tele-absence by Elliot Malkin. In the former reference, space retains the memory of its inhabitants and responds back; in the latter, Malkin highlights the phenomenon where reading a novel without a certain letter actually accentuates it – the absence becomes the presence.

The project utilizes real-time phone position tracking, pan-tilt servo motors, Firebase real-time communication, and ESP32 microcontrollers.



Video Storyboard