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What The Heck Is A Jaw Jabbler?

Published: January 15, 2016

New School of Art faculty member Brittany Ransom unifies art and technology in San Francisco this coming June to July when she participates in the prestigious Workshop Residency to develop “Jaw Jabbler: An Interactive Dog Toy.”

The Jaw Jabbler is no mere rubber chew toy but rather will take shape in three distinct versions of a high-tech device that enables dog owners to better communicate with Rover.

“This is a project I first addressed in 2010,” explained Ransom, who joined CSULB this fall after serving as an assistant professor of Digital/Hybrid Media and Video Art at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

“It is an interactive dog toy that can be reprogrammed for every dog,” explained Ransom, who received her Master of Fine Arts Degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2011. The first version is a straightforward stuffed toy without electronics. “As someone who is particular about aesthetics and design, I wanted to create a well-designed dog toy that people would not be upset to see in their homes,” she said. “Moreover, the goal of this version of the toy is to research materials that dogs like to interact with that are durable, in shapes and colors that are more ergonomically created with the dog at the center focus of the creation of the toys.”

Three possible prototype 3-D printed models of what the rubberized version of what the Jaw Jabbler dog toy may look like.
Three possible prototype 3-D printed models of what the rubberized version of what the Jaw Jabbler dog toy may look like.

Then comes the interactive model.

“In that version, when a dog squeezes the device, there is a different sound for each leg,” she said. “It can be reprogrammed for every dog. I remember lots of tests where I sat with my dog while it made different sounds on the toy. I want to create an app component that will turn the toy into a real-time drawing device so that, when dogs play with the toy, they make drawings that can be saved and printed.”

In 2010, Ransom created a prototype of the interactive toy called Interactopus, an eight-legged octopus-like toy that that was reprogrammable and used soft-circuiting techniques to allow for the initial development of this electronic tool for dogs. The new versions of this toy will be made of both soft-circuited materials and cast pet-safe rubber depending on the model.

The third version will be aimed at service dogs.

“I want to create a dog toy that allows humans to potentially communicate with dogs through learning various commands and requests by squeezing different elements of the toy/object,” she explained. “If a dog wants something or needs to communicate to their human companion, they will learn so through different surface textures of the toy on each leg. Then the toy would then act as an interspecies communication tool between the dog and human. This residency is a wonderful opportunity to explore the creation of these toys with designers in San Francisco who are leaders in innovative approaches to interactive technologies.”

The Workshop Residence in San Francisco’s Dogpatch neighborhood was founded by artist Ann Hatch to engage the worlds of craft, art and design by offering for sale original work by local and national artists who are invited to share their approach through workshops, talks and events. Top artists such as Presidential Medal for the Arts winner Ann Hamilton created denim, linen or waxed canvas work coats for eventual sale.

But, there is no lock on success.

“Whenever you put electronics in a thing that usually doesn’t have electronics and give that thing to an animal that can’t talk, there is an element of risk,” she said. “As an artist, I am especially interested in the toy’s potential as a drawing device. I have fantasies of taking these toys to an animal shelter and spending a day where 10 dogs make a drawing by playing together. This could also be used as a potential research tool to study play patterns in domestic dog behavior. The potential for the variations of this work are extensive. This residency offers an innovative and exciting platform that allows the potential for risk in producing objects that can blur the lines between the commercial and conceptual and realize it in a progressive storefront space with the accessibility of other innovators in the San Francisco area.”

Brittany Ransom
Brittany Ransom

The San Francisco residency is just the latest workshop in which Ransom has participated including her Arctic Circle Research Residency.

“I was chosen as one of 25 researchers from around the world to participate in the international Arctic Circle Residency program during the Summer Solstice Exhibition beginning in June of 2014,” she recalled. “The Arctic Circle Residency program is a unique and highly competitive annual expeditionary residency program that brings together international artists of all disciplines–scientists, architects and educators who collectively explore remote and fascinating destinations aboard a specially outfitted sailing vessel traveling around Svalbard, a mountainous Arctic archipelago located 10 degrees from the North Pole.”

Ransom utilized 3D scans made via cell phone photographs of glacial sea ice in the Arctic Circle. The glacial ice was photographed to produce a full 3D scan using open source software and was then mathematically translated into two-dimensional slices to follow the ice’s transformation to water under the heat of the summer sun.

More recently, Ransom explored the notion of the human pest and the idea of an expansive and collective global mind through a research project titled “Tweet Roach.”

“This research-based piece allows humans to use their connectedness through Twitter to send micro-stimulation pulses to literally influence the movements of an often-deemed ‘lowly’ cockroach albeit collectively through hash-tagging and toping trends that are sorted via computer code,” she said.

Ransom also hosts a new digital fabrication lab in the School of Art. Housed in the sculpture program, the facility currently features three 3D printers and a laser cutter from the foundations’ area.

“Having a digital component in foundations and sculpture courses is really important,” she said. “The Digital Fabrication Lab is where students learn about all these technologies. Plus, I’ve been teaching kinetics for years where students can learn about tiny micro-controllers they can reprogram to create interactive objects or installations.”

Ransom has a hard time defining herself as an artist.

“Am I a sculptor or a new media artist? I make objects and installations that often utilize technology as a material,” she said. “I think of technology as a tool set rather than as the end goal or something trending. I am really interested in using software, platforms and tools that are open source and free for everyone. I am interested in the kind of software that is meant for the ‘tinkerer’ and pushing it in ways that various accessible software platforms are able to aid in making complicated objects.”