Equine Eyes (2019) is a set of design prototypes which are developed to help designers understand other non-human species. Equine Eyes is a set of wearable and usable headsets which test approaches to form inter-species connections with horses. The headsets simulate horse vision by taking in two live camera feeds, filtering them and rendering them to display in an immersive headset for the human-animal’s binocular stereoscopic eyesight. The project follows an extensive prototyping process designed to explore methods of understanding how non-human animals experience the world. The project explores speculative methods for building empathy and understanding of non-human animals and the prototyping process have been documented in the publication Exploring Speculative Methods: Building Artifacts to Investigate Interspecies Intersubjective Subjectivity (Hook 2019) . The empathy that the project explores is a kind of complex empathy without pathos, and “would thus be a technical empathy that rests not on the sharing of emotions but rather on the creation of a community of visual sensitivity.” (Despret 2016:49).
A horse has two large eyes, each with a 180° field of view on the side of the head, similar to most prey species, which give mostly monocular vision but their field of view crosses at the front to give a binocular overlap to experience a cone of binocular vision at the front to experience depth. To mimic this the headset draws in live feeds from two 180° HD web cameras which are angled to replicate the horse’s eyes. This affords the user a 350° field of view, allowing them to see everything apart from directly behind them. The headset also removes all red from the colour range to help simulate how a horse sees the world as a dichromatic colour range.
Earlier prototypes adapted a commercially available virtual reality headset, but more recent iterations are completely wireless and use a raspberry-pi portable computer to render the ‘horse-vision’ so that the headset is battery powered and can be used ‘in the wild’. The headset is designed to help designers who are working across species divides build understanding of how horses might experience their designs and explores more speculative methods of understanding and knowing other species (Hook, 2019). The project emphasizes the importance of alternative and speculative research methodologies to explore complexity. The project promotes play and embodiment as the most appropriate ways to understand non-human animals:
“Alternative modes of research can open new avenues to explore complex social, cultural and political issues such as anthropocentricism, our cultural biases towards anthropomorphising other species and our relationship to nonhuman animals. This project uses designing, prototyping, iterating and making as a mode of exploring, generating and situating new knowledge about our relationships with animals and how we might design for and with them. The prototypes work as a counternarrative to more positivist approaches to the generation of new knowledge about nonhuman animals. This project draws on a number of research disciplines to create hybrid strategies which prioritise experience over language and offer potential models for other researchers in disciplines such as ACI tools (or toys) to promote new engagements with design practice and interspecies intersubjectivities.”
Horses have a complex social and cultural history in the west, and have lived alongside humans for thousands of years. They have a long historical entanglement with work, leisure and companionship for human-animals (Walker, 2008) which makes them an important species to explore as a co-inhabiter of a variety of shared spaces which could form design contexts. Horses, for designers like Steve North, are an example of unaware interactors, that communicate through nonverbal languages which we need new research methods to understand; as North writes “we cannot expect the voiceless to inform us through unstructured surveys and purely qualitative methods.” (North 2016:53). North’s call draws research towards more quantitative methods.
The project started as an exploration of the field of Animal Computer Interaction (ACI) as a space for considering our relationships with other species and our anthropocentric biases. The project examined ACIs reliance on positivist approaches to knowing and the success of designing for other species; through observation, measurement, biometrics and close study of the interactions of other species with the prototypes and design outcomes. Equine Eyes proposes the opposite, and a more embodied and subjective exploration of the experience of other species.
The project artifacts emphasise the importance of useable prototypes as tools or toys to play with and through the meaning and futures that designs propose. Playing with the artifacts, and the speculations they pose is an important approach to help grow audiences understanding, and the social, political and cultural implications of the design outcomes and plausible futures. The new wireless and portable prototypes can be used to experience and test a range of design scenarios and contexts to help in the designing for, and with, horses. The project emphasizes the importance of different ways of knowing and being in the world, and that complex tacit knowledge can be embodied in things. The prototypes propose the development of an ‘interspecies inter-subjective subjectivity’ to help build our understanding of how nonhuman animals experience the world so we can build more inclusive futures.
The prototypes have been presented at a range of conferences, events and symposium in the UK, Ireland, China and the USA to help feedback on the prototyping process, develop the methods and refine the project outcomes. Early prototypes have been presented as part of a TEDx Talk “Exploring The Borders Between Human and Non-Human Animals” and on the TED blog “Need a fresh perspective? See the world like a horse does (or a cow or a cat or an ant …)“
Despret, V. (2016) What Would Animals Say If We Asked The Right Questions? Translated by B. Buchanan Minneapolis: University of Minnosota Press
Hook, A. (2019) Equine Eyes [available at www.equineeyes.co.uk
Hook, A. (2019) “Exploring Speculative Methods: Building Artifacts to Investigate Interspecies Intersubjective Subjectivity.” Alphaville: Journal of Film and Screen Media, no. 17, pp. 146–164. DOI: https://doi.org/10.33178/alpha.17.09.
North, S. (2016) Do Androids dream of electric steeds?: the allure of horse-computer interaction. interaction 23, 2 (February 2016), 50-53.
Walker, E. (2008) Horses London: Reakiton Books