The Cube is landing! Engineering Students Explore Human Rights Through Interactive Exhibit

Basel Mardini and and Simone Fasanaro are discussing the philosophical implications of their latest tech-project - “The Cube”, a 3x3x3 metre metal box that will descend on Kista in May.

“You have to understand that the right to even have rights is hinged on having respect for others“, Fasanaro says.

So the moment you respect someone else, you are not just granting him his rights, but you are also granting your own rights…If you do not respect the rights of others who is going to defend your rights?” he questions.

These types of philosophical debates around the concept of fundamental human rights is exactly what 'The Cube' project seeks to illicit from its viewers.

“The Cube” Mardini and Fasanaro are working on is just one of 30 cube projects from Sweden and abroad. An initiative of the Raoul Wallenberg Academy,  the Kista-based cube is being overseen by Inicio, a technology-focused non-profit organisation that empowers students to develop their dreams and talents.

Together with Inicio, KTH students Mardini (Bachelor of Computer Science, KTH ) and Fasanaro (Eramus Scholar at KTH, Bachelor of Product Design, Politecnico di Torino)  are responsible for conceptualising a cube that will provide an abstract representation of Article 30 of the Universal Human Rights Declaration. Article 30 states that: "No government, group or individual should act in a way that would destroy the rights and freedoms of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."

“Article 30 is probably the most general of the 30 Human Rights. But it is probably also the most challenging, which is very good for us because it does not give you an obvious solution (on how to conceptualise the project),” Fasanaro says.

The cube plans to utilise smart phone technology to question the visitors pre-conceived notions of “them and us”. Visitor will use smart phones found inside the cube to “peek” into the lives of “strangers”.

“I realised that while basic human rights might seem very basic for example the right to be considered a human being, these rights are actually broken daily in front of our eyes and we do not really realise sometimes we think, 'It is just another person,  it is not going to happen to us.... but it could be us,'" Fasanaro says.

"You will not know who that person is, you will just find “traces” of somebody else. You will never be able to guess their background (identity), instead these traces will tell a story."

The project seeks to create an immersive experience that represented the different stories being told and challenged visitors to feel empathy for each other

“We are all the same on the ground. We are of course, different. We think differently, we do different things, we were born in different places but we still come from the same base from where our life originates,” Mardini says.

Fasanaro echoes this sentiment.

“The objective would be for people to use these phones, scroll on them,  think this could be me, this could be my son or my friend and probably using telephones and apps that we all use daily make this even more clear - using Whatsapp, Using Facebook, you recognise the software, you can recognise everything but it is just a different story. Just a different chat. A different photo”.

Smart phones were chosen as the main carrier of information in the project as this type of technology connects all of us.

“We all carry a phone with us - it is something that we all do no matter what is our annual income or our social life - we all do," Fasanaro says.

“Electronics follow people everywhere, and these electronic specialist smartphones contain a lot of information that can really tell the story about an individual, really explain who they are. And I think that looking through someone else phone is for everybody a little bit weird, we feel that we are actually entering somebody else’s life, and we are going into the private life of somebody else.  So we do not usually look at somebody else’s phone but in this case people will be able to go in and look through all the files, all the details will be left for people to understand the story of this person."

With the project requiring both a strong philosophical basis as well as electrical engineering skills, Mardini and Fasanaro says this was just the type of project they were looking to become involved with.

“The thing that really sold this project was the challenge, this (type of) communication, it was more of a philosophical problem than a practical sense. Just designing even without touching technology, it is already challenging - choosing what to do and what path to take,” Fasanaro says

This combination of visionary thinking and technology know-how see the duo bear more than a passing resemblance to that of infamous Apple duo Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs.

“We complete each other,” Fasanaro says with a laugh.

“I am the visionary  whereas Basel has the more hands-on approach,” he says

“I always used to pull apart my toys and also old toys thrown out by others. I wanted to get parts, like the DC motors from them,” Mardini says.

“He is just a curious kid,” Fasanaro quips.

And it is this curiosity and willingness to find simple solutions to complex problems that is at the core of this project.

“The Cube arrives the 2nd of May and it will just be a container with a pre-printed cover which will have the Article 30 printed on it. The inside we will change,” Mardini says.

“We are on a low-budget though so we have to find simple solutions. We have already had quite a bit of challenges,” he says.

“We have to consider everything from how to power the cube, finding phones for the installation, how to transport the cube… Some challenges seem pretty hard but sometimes you might find a simple solution to it.

“Once you have done it, you think it is the easiest thing to do it but while you are doing it you are looking for every possibility and what to use. It begins slow and once you actually find what you are going to use and you have the idea of what you are going to do, then it goes a lot quicker,” Mardini says.

The Inicio cube is expected to be shown at Grönlandspaken in Kista before being  “re-united” with the 29 other cubes as part of a major exhibition on August 30 at Kungsträdgården.

Mardini and Fasanaro are actively seeking sponsors and other members to join their team.

“We do not need specific knowledge, whoever can join our team,” Mardini says.

“Our cube is going to make people closer than ever,” Fasanaro says.

And what is their final message?

“Join Us!” both say with a laugh.

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