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Entertainment technology for gardens

by Alice Wright

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There was a time when hi-tech entertainment in your back garden meant struggling to find a signal on a portable radio, or pushing the telly out on to the patio during Wimbledon. But today gardens can be as hooked up as the most gadget-filled living room – with all the mod-cons you’d expect to find inside the house, and more.

In an increasingly plugged-in world it’s no surprise that cutting edge entertainment technology is expanding to appeal to people who want to get out in their gardens while staying connected to modern life. And rapid advances mean companies have been able to develop sophisticated, durable and, crucially, weather-proof electronic equipment that can not only withstand the elements but perform as effectively outside as in.

The ever- growing popularity of outdoor events such as open-air film screenings, pop-up rooftop club nights and music festivals has also shown that enjoying the outdoors can be as much about a good night out as getting your hands dirty. And having seen the possibilities that outdoor spaces can offer, more and more urbanites are keen to turn their own backyard into a cool, alternative venue for relaxing and entertaining friends.

Recognising this, companies are stepping up to meet demand, developing everything from waterproof TVs to wireless, all-weather outdoor speaker systems.

wireless boombox pxThe team behind Outdoor Tech are among those who have seen the possibilities of the market. Ben Dodd, visual content manager and marketing project coordinator at the LA-based company, explains that it was founded a few years ago with the aim of creating “solid, rugged audio products with the outdoorsman/woman in mind”. And although their products are primarily designed for the action sports industry, they are just as relevant in a garden setting.

“All of our products are wireless, so there aren’t any cords to get in the way of your gardening work,” says Ben.

“The Turtle Shell® wireless boom box is particularly well-suited to a gardening environment; it is dust-proof, shock-resistant and water-resistant, which are all pretty obviously relevant to gardeners.  Plus, it sounds really great.”

And he believes the space is growing for developments that will enable people to incorporate technology into their gardens even further.

“It’s definitely expanding, and we’re excited about anything that creatively enhances the interaction between technology and the outdoors.  Lots of people garden in spaces that are otherwise completely urban, so the activity itself is sort of a representation of what we are trying to do.”

technology rainforest garden pxGuy Sigalov, of OptiMusic, has also recognised the potential for combining our love of gardens with our passion for technology, developing his patented interactive light beam systems to create hi-tech sensory gardens.

Using software run from a laptop inside the house, and a series of switches and outdoor speakers, Guy can weave sound and music into the garden design.

“You have various switches in the garden that are triggered as you walk, or lever switches that produce sound as you pull a rope or something, ” he says.  “We can do up to 24 different speakers in the garden, and you can have these rock speakers which meld into the environment.

“Say you have a statue of a cat, you put a sensor in the vicinity and as you walk or pull something the sound will come out. We can do themed gardens, like seashore or tropical.”

At the moment, OptiMusic predominately creates these interactive gardens for educational purposes but Guy says he is thinking about producing smaller and more affordable packages that would appeal to those with urban, residential gardens looking to add another element to their outdoor space.

“Audio helps so much to bring more atmosphere to a garden, it kind of springs to life,” he says, adding that the software is relatively easy for clients to use once it’s up and running, so they can tailor the experience as the mood takes them.

“If you do a barbeque or have a birthday you can change all the sounds to suit the occasion,” he explains. “You could even change one sensor so it plays happy birthday. It makes the space really personal.”

Outdoor screens are also finding their way into domestic gardens. Once an activity confined to the living room, we have become used to catching up with our favourite programmes and films on the go via smartphones and tablets. So settling down for a telly session in the back garden feels completely natural, and TVs with anti-glare technology and designed to withstand everything from salt water to snow mean you can do just that.

Larger inflatable screens are also available for sale or hire for the occasional movie night. However, recognising the growing outdoor trend, this year home cinema company LED Projectors went one further and began offering garden cinemas to clients in the capital.  Their London Garden Cinema package includes installing the cinema system and building a bespoke outdoor area to house it.

With the smallest screen measuring 36 square metres and costing just over £57,000 you’ll need to have a bit of space and cash to spare. But company owner Frank Helmeczy is confident that those who can afford it will see it as a worthwhile addition to their garden, particularly after the fine summer we’ve just enjoyed.

Credit: Doran

Credit: Doran

And on a bigger stage, creatives are also getting excited about the potential for combining gardens and plants with cutting edge technology. Last year Disney unveiled Botanicus Interacticus, a system which involves wiring up a living plant so it becomes interactive and able to emit different sounds depending on where it is touched. Meanwhile the UK-based arts organisation Ahh…Arts Igniting Minds is currently working on the Garden of Ideas, a “pleasure garden for the 21st Century” , which will use a garden setting to bring ground-breaking arts, science and technology to a mass audience.

With innovations in outdoor technology ever-growing, even the most modest garden could soon, almost literally, be all-singing and all-dancing. And the days of listening to a fuzzy radio from your deckchair are long gone.

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