What is Hive Mechanic?

Learning about a local sculpture by texting it. Taking an audio tour or a story walk using a cell phone. Our new tool empowers anyone to create outdoor and immersive experiences for ordinary phones — no coding or programming skill required. Our approach is based on successful installations with the DC Public Library (DCPL), the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, and neighborhood cultural centers.

**NEW GRANT** Two-year funding from IMLS ($250k) to train libraries in 25 cities and towns with Hive Mechanic! Read our press releases.

Things we’ve made

Collage of work involving Hive Mechanic

Our early games and stories were made with partners from DC Public Library (and the People’s archive), the Smithsonian, the District Architecture Center, neighborhood festivals like Adams Morgan Day, to arts centers like Tephra, and many more.

Our Tool: “Hive Mechanic”

Hive Mechanic is our tool to create games and interactive stories for cities. Hive Mechanic allows anyone to make outdoor and mobile experiences without coding skills. Instead, the system prioritizes text messaging (including photos and video messages), branching audio hotlines, and embedding play in public space with QR codes, posters, and events like street festivals that can bring local history to life. The interface uses visual cards to show actions – like sending a historic photograph as a text response to a secret keyword. It is free and open source. The software was developed with seed funding from the Provost’s Office of American University and through collaborations with the Smithsonian, DC Office of Planning and DC Public Library.

Major initiative: 25+ cities with libraries

We are currently conducting a 2-year project to bring Hive Mechanic games and workshops to libraries in 25+ cities, towns and tribal communities. This is partnership between the DC Public Library and American University’s Playful City Lab within the AU Game Center. See details.

Our team

Development of Hive Mechanic is led by the Playful City Lab of American University. We work in close partnership with groups including the DC Public Library, the DC Office of Planning, the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, and more. Software development is led by Audacious Software.

Recent partners include:

Milestones and history

• 2018: Ideation phase, thanks to seed funding from American University, including prototypes with Raspberry Pi

• 2018: Concept demonstrations with key partners (i.e., working prototypes, but with intensive coding and 3rd-party tools)

• 2019: Software development began by Audacious Software. Two technical versions tested; one was selected for our beta.

• Feb 1, 2020: Workshop at the AU Global Game Jam — the first with Hive Mechanic

• Spring 2020: Release of open-source code on GitHub

• Spring 2020: Full stack launch — first exhibits launch running the full Hive Mechanic stack

• July, 2020: Creation of the plans for the MiDI Bee Physical Installation Box

• September, 2020: Launch of “Buoyant Oracle” and “Mural, Mural on the Wall” installations for broad public use, among other working projects

• Summer, 2021: Launch of “Hard Choices” activity with DC Office of Planning, for crowds and live polling on the future of a neighborhood

• September, 2021: Major grant ($249k) from IMLS to reach 20+ cities with neighborhood game design, in partnership with the DC Public Library (“Beyond Our Walls”)

+ our first national call for libraries was in the fall of 2022, the second in the spring of 2023, and the third in the fall of 2023; we anticipate portions of our findings will roll out in 2024