Call Mom: The Redial Edition

By Tabitha and Jingpo

Our final setup on the exhibition day.

Our final setup on the exhibition day.

Project Description:

Call Mom is an Arduino-based networking project that uses a light sensor to determine when mom’s reading lamp is switched on and sends you a notification that she’s in relaxation mode, ready to hear from you. The device is small enough to fit inside a decorative object such as a book or a box allowing it to blend seamlessly with her bedroom decor. Powered by a simple battery pack it’s a low maintenance internet connected device that sits by her bedside. This new iteration includes a smartphone-friendly interface that allows the user to call or message mom directly as well as monitor her sleeping patterns and phone call statistics. In the gallery setting this project is presented as a set of bedside vignettes that are built using found-objects which allow the viewer to imagine the world of three unique moms as they wind down for the night.

Github Link: 


This second iteration of The ‘Call Mom’ Project focuses primarily on the unique needs of people living in different time zones who would like to easily communicate by phone with their mothers back home. Drawing from Jingpo’s personal experience we expanded upon our initial idea and built a web interface based on feedback from some of our international classmates. Our previous project has a simple function that worked very well: getting email alerts. This time, we built upon that to better meet the needs of people who live far from home. 

Another component of this project is the fabrication and in this second go-around we needed it to work within a gallery setting. In the previous version we presented the device inside an old book and placed it on a bedside table to help the viewer connect to the concept while imagining their own mom tucked in bed. For this version we expanded upon the idea based on a suggestion from Kate to add more moms!

Website Development: Jingpo

We went through a process of defining the functionalities of the web product: why a web site? What functionality should this website have? What makes this website different from others, such as google weather?

We then interviewed several international students in our class, hoping to get some inspiration from them.


We interviewed 4 international students in our class: Jingpo, Norbert, Naomi and Carisa. There are 3 key findings:

  1. They all very busy at school and live in different timezone with their parents. They all think receiving reminder would be very helpful.
  2. Sometimes they don’t know what to talk with their moms.
  3. Even though they don’t call their mom, they would still think about their mom: “what is she doing right now?”, “what is weather in my hometown, colder or warmer?”

Information Flow:

To finalize the insights we found in research and potential users interview and decide the final functionality of this website, we use FreeMind to make a minding map.




We used Adobe XD to design the webpage.


We also used PS and AI to create the homepage illusion of lamp is on and off.




1. Temperature sensors:

We want to know the temperature of the room. Tabitha’s mom doesn’t open the heat during the winter. She’d like to know the room temperature of her mom house and make sure her mom take good care of herself. We spent a lot of time working on the temperature sensor. The code I wrote doesn’t work for the temperature sensor I have.


2. API

We found API that we can use, called free open source for weather. We don’t know how to trace and track other data we want to have first. Then we found a YouTube a tutorial online and solve the problem but the code only works locally. The code was forbidden by OCADU server. It works when I started a new HTML and add Jsonp into the code.


3. Touch Screen

The code only worked for laptop not for touch screen. We checked the P5 JavaScript library tried different syntaxes, such as “mousePressed” and “touchStarted”, but they all didn’t work. Then we decided to create a navigation bar at the top of each webpage.

Fabrication: Tabitha

When expanding upon our initial version of Call Mom it was important that the new mom characters were specific enough to feel real but not so specific that it felt like you were looking at the bedside table of someone else’s mom. The hardest part of this was deciding what to do with the portraits. In the first version I used an old family portrait of my mom and my aunt mainly because of the aesthetic. Since it’s an old photo from the 70s it has this timeless quality that fit in with the rest of the objects I had selected. However, once you start adding multiple vignettes patterns begin to emerge and I did not want every setup to look like it belonged to a white baby boomer mom. It felt cheap to just google photos of people of other ethnicities and plop those images into the frames. The wrong choice would distract from the main purpose of the fabrication which was to communicate how we are all connected by the shared experience of having mothers. These moms had to feel real.

In sorting out what to do about this I got onto thinking about family vacation photos and whether I could play with the idea of the absentee child by going into photoshop and erasing or obscuring the kids within the pictures, as if their presence within the family was a faded memory. However I thought that might be pushing our project too far into the realm of conceptual art which didn’t seem to align with Jingpo’s vision. So I dug through my old photo albums and found an old black and white photo of a man whose face was obscured and a small photo of a friend of mine from public school. Both of these images did not draw too much attention to themselves which is why I think they served their intended purpose of representing family photos while still allowing the viewer to project themselves onto the project. I still really like the idea of picture frames representing children who aren’t present, but I think it would work best if I used backdrops that are obviously missing the subject such as empty school portraits or a birthday celebration with no birthday boy/girl.

Gathering materials. Instead of asking 'what do moms like?' I asked myself 'what does this mom like?'

Instead of asking myself ‘what do all moms like?’ I asked ‘what does this mom like?’

Next it was time to build the thing! My home is a strange place with lots of crazy objects so there were many items to choose from for the fabrication of two new mom vignettes. The trick was to establish a direction. To do this first I thought of two more Mom characters then I imagined what sort of bedside table they might have. So I made the following list:

Setup 1: (Original Mom)

  • Networked object: Book with sensor and arduino
  • Power supply
  • Cup of tea
  • Additional book props
  • Family photo
  • Vintage Table
  • Vintage Lamp
  • Light sensor
  • Funky carpet

Setup 2: (Humble Mom)

  • Networked object: heirloom jewelry box? Tupperware sewing kit? Kleenex box?
  • Power supply
  • Water in a budweiser cup
  • National enquirer magazines
  • Family photo
  • Old TV tray table
  • Crumpled tissues
  • Basket of knitting
  • Fuzzy bathroom carpet

Setup 3: (Posh/Modern Mom)

  • Networked object: orange Hermes box?
  • Power supply
  • Crystal decanter of rum
  • Family photos
  • Fancy lamp
  • Silk sleeping mask
  • Incense
  • Brass gate leg table
  • Persian rug
Trying out different table setups by grabbing things from around my apartment.

Trying out different table setups by grabbing things from around my apartment.

Next I thought of what tables I could use for each of the characters. I settled on a brass gate leg table for the ‘modern mom’ and an old battered tv tray for ‘humble mom’. This process was very improvisational, but I was working from a clear structure that would evolve as I found new objects. At one point I realized that slippers could be a nice addition so we could really feel mom’s presence – like how we kick off our slippers before climbing into bed. So I started with moccasins and thought of the other types of ‘slippers’ humble mom and posh mom might have. When it came to books humble mom had a few books from the library and posh mom had an expensive monocle city guide and a book on Persian cooking. Humble mom was reading a copy of the Toronto Star whereas posh mom had a subscription to the Margaret Atwood-backed local newspaper The West End Phoenix. It helped to focus on specific people from my life when curating these objects which added to the realism. Nothing was placed at random – I’ve got a rationale for every crazy object in this project! The one thing I wish I could have brought was a huge carpet but I don’t drive so I limited myself to things I could take with me in a taxi.

Preparing for the final presentation.

To prepare for the final presentation I had a ‘mum’s chicken’ pie for lunch.

Since we were duplicating our original project the circuit and sensor remained the same. Jingpo and I borrowed some Feathers from our classmates and stuck them on new breadboards and plugged them into battery packs. We decided to choose something other than books this time around so our two new sensors were housed inside a kleenex box and a big wooden box for simplicity. Unfortunately our battery pack was too large to use the orange cat teapot as a connected object! Next time…

Getting things together in the experimental media space.

Getting things together in the experimental media space.


Mom's nightcap.

Mom’s nightcap.

This mom is practical with a touch of whimsy.

This mom is practical with a touch of whimsy.

On the day of our show we set up in the experimental media space and waited for people to arrive. It ended up working perfectly because the main room was quite loud with all the other projects whereas this room was quiet enough for visitors to fully engage with our project. We marked the lamp switches in a colourful green tape to indicate the interaction and mounted an iPad against the wall so the viewers could make the connection between the phone messages and the on/off lamp graphics. Due to the simple nature of our project it was easy to convey the idea in a few short phrases and the crowd seemed to understand within seconds.

Tabitha had some concerns that it would be harder to make an emotional connection with the audience this time around since, unlike with experiment 4, she would not be literally calling her mom on the phone as a part of the presentation. But in the end the idea resonated with more force than we had expected where visitors appeared to project feelings of their own mothers and families onto the project. Much of the reaction was positive and when we would describe the concept there were smiles and laughs of recognition, especially amongst those who were far away from home. But there were some moments of genuine tension as well where Tabitha was grilled over our decision to focus on mothers. It was interesting to see how our project became a launching point for discussion around families, mothers and technology.

The sensors were a point of contention for several visitors.

The hidden sensors were a point of contention for several visitors.

Here are a few snippets of the reactions from our exhibition:

  • An international student was beaming as he described how the slippers we had placed next to the end tables made him want to kick off his own shoes and transport back home to be with his family.
  • An older man was quite bothered by the statistical aspect of our project where we could track our mother’s sleeping pattern and temperature in the room. He spent a few minutes arguing with Tabitha about the age of her mother and whether she would need such features. To Tabitha it seemed as though he was projecting his own feelings about aging onto the project.
  • One younger man was intrigued by the way we had hidden the devices in objects which led to a rich discussion about privacy. He said that on the surface it seems as though we are spying, but the irony is that the sensor is so simple and does not produce much data at all and is relatively harmless. We give more information voluntarily through our social media accounts, yet a simple light sensor can be perceived as a violation through the act of being hidden. Tie that in with the fact that we’re ‘spying on our mothers’ and you’ve got a very interesting dynamic.
  • Everyone got excited when we demonstrated how the lamp and the images on the iPad were connected through the on/off switch. One person said it was “as satisfying as popping bubble wrap.”
  • One guy was bothered by our choice to focus on mothers and wanted to know why fathers were left out since “not all mothers are that great.” Interestingly, his feelings seemed to be diffused when Jingpo described how we were inspired by her situation as an international student.
  • Jingpo asked her mom whether she would want this device in her home and she said absolutely no, but Tabitha’s mom gave a resounding yes!


We presented some case studies to the class to show how our project relates to the work done by other creators.

The immersive theatre experience Sleep No More communicates a clear sense of place.

The immersive theatre experience Sleep No More communicates a clear sense of place.

Inspiration #1 (Tabitha): Immersive Theatre Performance: Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More

Relevant Qualities

In Sleep No More participants are encouraged to explore an old hotel by navigating through an intricately curated immersive environment. A strange moment for me on this project was realizing that much of what makes Call Mom work relates directly to the location design/Layout course that I teach at Sheridan. The main difference is that here we work with physical objects whereas I’m used to just drawing them in 2D, though both use specificity of design to express character. Here are some elements of Sleep No More that were guiding principals for the fabrication.

  • Well-researched design details
  • Communicates a sense of time and place
  • Encourages participants to move through the space in unique ways while exploring its secrets
  • Builds a narrative world through found objects

Fabrication: Next Steps

These are the key takeaways from Sleep No More and how they relate to our project.

  • Build 2 new Mom characters to expand upon this world
  • Play within the same object categories, just change their characteristics
  • Draw people into the narrative with specificity
  • Emphasis on the universality of this experience
A diagram explaining how the Realtime Temperature Sensor works.

A diagram explaining how the Realtime Temperature Sensor works.

Inspiration #2 (Jingpo): Realtime Temperature Sensor

It is a simple project that uses a temperature sensor to monitor temperatures and stream the data to a live-updating dashboard, in realtime, anywhere in the world. The temperature sensor measures the ambient temperature and publishes it the data to a channel via the PubNub Data Network. A web browser that subscribes to this channel displays the data stream on a live visualization dashboard.

Sensors sitting anywhere in the world collect data. All they need is power and internet. The technology behind is using a public JavaScript API. Data, for example, coming from temperature sensor and light sensor generate raw data. We want to build a website and visually display those data.

This is how the Realtime Temperature Sensor works:

  1. The temperature sensor measures the ambient temperature.
  2. This connects to the Wi-Fi.
  3. The PubNub code enables us to publish the temperature in real time to any one subscribing to the same channel as a data stream.
  4. Through the PubNub Developer Console, we can receive this stream of information from as many sensors as you like in real time.
The Smart Lamp is a wirelessly connected device that closely relates to our project.

The Smart Lamp is a wirelessly connected device that closely relates to our project.

Inspiration #3 (Jingpo): Smart Lamp with IKEA Lampan, Sonoff and

The Smart Lamp is a domotic lamp that can be controlled with a smartphone, or even using Google assistant.

The idea consists in equipping a cheap IKEA Lampan with a Sonoff Basic controller, that counts with a Wi-Fi controlled relay and a quite discrete enclosure. Then, we will program it to integrate with platform and start controlling its status with different connected tools such as APP, Web console, or even in response to IFTTT triggers that we can extend with Google Home or thousands of other platforms.

A diagram describing how the Smart Lamp works.

A diagram describing how the Smart Lamp works.

How it works:

Replacing this mechanism with the Sonoff Basic, and it will act as the new switch.

Open Arduino IDE and open the “SonoffBasic” example code

Create a WiFi network that can be accessed to configure your home WiFi and service connection credentials.

Sign up and integrate the project with Platform

IFTTT is a platform that allows to configure several triggers. integrate the Google Assistant APP that can be used with our SmartPhone, to create a trigger of the action (the THIS part) and a Webhooks request to send it to



Inspiration #1


Inspiration #2


Inspiration #3