Give Me Back My Broken Night: Wearable pico projectors and drawing apps

Unlike conventional tours or historic walks, this is a tour of the future. Audiences are given a mobile device and a blank folded paper map, a micro projector is hung around their neck. In the streets, an actor guides them through a landscape of utopian or dystopian possibilites.

Give Me Back My Broken Night by Uninvited Guests and Circumstance is a performance offering a walking tour of possible futures. As participants walk the streets a map projected onto a sheet of paper follows their current location. When the participants describe their own ideas for the future, illustrations appear on the map. As Bristol Culture describes it:

Bristol’s future is revealed and discussed via maps that change in front of our eyes like the Marauder’s Map from Harry Potter, as we discuss cricket pitches and solar panels.

Theatre Sandbox

Give Me Back My Broken Night was originally created in 2010 as part of the 3 month long Theatre Sandbox research program. Initially eink and tablet computers were considered. At the time tablet computers were too heavy to be held up for the duration of the performance and eink screens were not available in a large enough size.

Instead wearable pico projectors were used, projecting through a mirror onto a sheet of paper. Participants naturally lined up the held piece of paper with the projector. The projector was connected to a Nokia phone, which at the time was one of the few handsets capable of outputting to a pico projector.


When Give Me Back My Broken Night was commissioned for Guimarães 2012 European Capital of Culture a new version of the software was created from scratch by Watershed and Calvium. The software is composed of two parts: a mobile app for displaying the map on a projector and a drawing application for producing illustrations.


When participants describe possible futures an illustrator listens in using a covertly placed mobile phone. As animator Sam Steers says:

I drew over a network whilst I listened big brother style to the participants’ visions of the future to whom my drawing was relayed back via portable projectors so that they could see a visualisation of their concepts as they said them, right there in the street!!

The illustration is done in a web browser using a HTML Canvas in a custom written Ruby on Rails application. The interface is quite simple, offering a pencil and eraser. The illustrator’s strokes are recorded and sent to the mobile phone client app in realtime where they are replayed.

The illustrations are drawn on top of a custom base map. This base map is created as an image and imported into the drawing application where it is lined up with geographical coordinates. As the illustrator draws on top of the base map, green rectangles show the current location and field of vision of participants walking on the streets.


Calvium produced the iPhone mobile application. As the participants walk around it moves the custom map to centre on their current location. In addition it receives the realtime drawings being made by a remote illustrator, the lines appearing on screen as they are drawn. The iPhone is attached to a pico projector in a specially built cradle.


The illustrations are received over 3G by the phone. The app constantly polls the central server for a list of the most recently drawn strokes. We chose polling over a continuous connection as we found maintaining a continuous connection over 3G to be unreliable.

Vanessa Bellaar Spruijt kindly walked around the performance site in Guimarães running the speed test application to give us an indication of the network performance. Speedtest exports a CSV file showing measured latency and bandwidth with GPS coordinates.

Photographs taken by Jenny Davies at the Bristol Temple Quarter performance. Give Me Back My Broken Night will next be performed in Rotterdam on September 21st to 27th 2013.