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    A new perspective on electronic voting

    By Stephen Rowett, on 12 June 2012

    As part of UCL’s involvement in the Cheltenham Science Festival, someone from our team goes down to Cheltenham to support the use of electronic voting in some of the events there. My colleague Matt has already blogged about the kinds of things we do.

    This year, one of the groups we are supporting is the Festival of the Spoken Nerd – Helen, Matt and Steve – who are doing a show in Cheltenham on Thursday 14 June.

    Last night they did a try out of some of their material in the upstairs room at the Green Man in London. They certainly had a packed house, although seating only about 30 at a squeeze the venue is very cosy and the audience certainly get to interact with the performers.

    Part of the performance was a re-make of Bruce Forsyth’s Generation Game, with a teams loosely led by each of the performers and a series of science and maths questions to answer. The voting handsets led each member of the audience have their say, with a number of trick questions to add to the fun.

    So far, so fairly ordinary in the world of voting. But what made it more interesting was another part of the performance where teams used their mobiles to play pong against each other using crowd-sourcing to aggregate the individual commands to move the bat up or down.

    We started talking about how the voting handsets might be used within this. TurningPoint do provide an SDK, and with this it should be possible to use the handsets as controllers for pretty much any application. It turns out that a colleague, Daniel Richardson, has already done this, using voting handsets to control a crowd tightrope walking game.

    So, what else could we do with the handsets. Well, lots. For Economics, how about a simulation where different teams play the Treasury, Bank of England, Banks etc in a simulation of the economy. Controlling machinery in Engineering. Determining the functioning of the human body in medicine.

    We could take it further. Rather than having each handset being an equal partner in the crowd-sourcing efforts, we could plant catalysts or decoys to simulate real world phsychology or group behaviour, or disease or system failure.

    There is lots of potential here to go beyond simple multiple choice questions to involve the audience in dymamic live simulations, games and experiments. I’m quickly discovering that there’s much more to these simple handsets than I ever realised.