In January, i was in Hungary to visit Kitchen Budapest. Before i head to a review of what i've seen in the geek alcove, i'm going to list a few surprises i encountered while i was walking through the capital:
I don't know what is the matter with their public statues but some get tortured with fierce cruelty (must have something to do with the moustache):
Workers have some really classy hats:
Santa has more fun there than anywhere else in the world
On January 26, the KiBu lab was opening its doors for a Kibu.Projects.Social event to present all Kitchen Budapest projects, get feedback on their work from visitors, drink hot chocolate and end the evening with performances.
Kitchen Budapest, a new media lab which opened its doors in June 2007, invites researchers, designers and artists to explore the convergence of mobile communication, online communities and urban space but also their impact on our society. Its director is Adam Somlai-Fischer whose work with Aether Architecture you probably know.
Some of the prototypes presented in January were developed over several months, others took only a couple of weeks to form. KiBu is sponsored by a telecom company but that doesn't mean that its projects stop at the end of the phone antenna: the KiBuists are having fun with blenders, lamps, games, plants, gym, etc.
They work in team of people coming from very different backgrounds who mix and teach each other their passion and knowledge.
Now about (some of) the projects:
Eco Gym made me laugh out loud.
First you have this home bicycle which belonged to the mother of one of the KiBu designers. Well, i think that this bicycle is gorgeous, it belongs to a museum. Not that the KiBu people care that much, they simply dragged it to the lab and turned it into an eco-conscious experiment (a bit like Myriel Milicevic's Human Powered workshop in Antwerp last year).
The bicycle is the first prototype of a group of projects which will harvest the energy of its user's own activity and use it to power the light for example. The idea is to have a whole gym where energy wasting does not exist. The energy of users sweating on a training machine would power the whole gym: light, sound system, air-con, etc.
The same team of designers is also working on MOMO, a series of smaller applications which would motivate you to engage in physical activities during your daily routine. They were showing the Scroll-Muscle machine (image above), a system which forces you to flex your arm and exercise your biceps/triceps each time you scroll down a webpage.
The work is still very much in progress.
The main idea of Landprint is to develop a program-manipulated plant cultivation system, it would reproduce subtle patterns and photos by combining various species of plants with programmed robotics.
They prototyped an impressive Textmower, a modified lawnmower able to cut a pattern into the grass. While pushing the lawnmower, the robotic device switches on and off small blades as necessary. The final image is made up from the cut and uncut grass surfaces.
One of their plan is the "Sheep decide". In this version, instead of a robotic device, it's a sheep which would make a pattern.
The designers discovered that there are some kind of grass which sheep like and other they do not like. Their plan would be to seed a field with two different hayseeds, the latent picture would emerge and become visible as the sheep eats its way through the field.
The idea made me think of this video of sheep being "re-programmed" in order to turn grazing animals into self-powered weeding machines.
autoCut is a sound-based "self-editing" video application still in development but already quite impressive. The system would make use of the many short videos shot by mobile devices which usually remain on the hard disk, or are uploaded to a video-sharing portal without any editing.
The autoCut program selects and edits the videos according to a certain music. Moreover, autoCut can handle the videos in real time, based on the rythm of live audio input.
this cut-up is made with a pd/pdp prototype, there is no after-editing, it cuts itself based on the beat of the music (crunch). there are 9 small clips, and the program chooses between them, while modifying the clips speed, position, and image composition (rotation).
Mllamp was sick while i was in Budapest. The project experiments with emotions simulation and putting minimal intelligence into everyday things. The robotically-enhanced desk lamp has been suited up with anthropomorphous character which induces the audience to see human or pet gestures in the object's every moves. Mllamp is an experiment for simulating emotions with putting minimal intelligence into everyday things.
Light Arbour is a lighting system which reproduces natural phenomena of light and provides an alternative and subtle communication facility between places and people. The aim is not to transmit a clear image of the landscape you see to your partner or friend but rather to send them an atmosphere, an ambiance, an impression of the intensity of the light in the mountain or at sun set for example.
Arbour Light would be supported by a website, which would allow users to upload and use an ambient database made of the videos of Arbour Light owners and "phenomena-collectors".
Animata is a real-time animation software for live performance. To create and move virtual characters, you load an image and attach a skeleton to it. By placing them in different depths of field, they get a 3D effect.
Screenshot from a video showing Reverse Shadow Theatre using Animata
The designers demo'ed the latest version of the project where characters' movements of a shadow character animation were controlled by the movements of live actors. Furthermore, Animata allows a multi-user collaboration via the internet, thus providing an opportunity for the collective editing and creating of the performance.
Further development include:
Students of Design Interactions Chris Woebken and Kenichi Okada, in collaboration with MBA students from the Oxford Said Business-school, have been developing a series of sensory enhancements toys for children to experience "animal superpowers." Each prototype allows the kid to change perspective or feel empathy with animals.
At the work in progress show of the Royal College of Art in London a few weeks ago there were showing 3 of their prototypes:
The ground as seen through the "Ant" apparatus
Ant - feeling like an ant magnifying your vision 50x through microscope antennas on your hands
They are also developing Elephant shoes that pick up transmitting vibrations from fellows and a head mounted Theremin (!) to provide children with an enhanced spatial vision similar to the one of an electric Eel.
How does the Bird device work?
K&C: Birds find direction through sensing geomagnetic fields to find their way migrating from their summer territory to where they are spending the winter months.
Rather than translating the sense of geomagnetic fields literally, we designed a device that can be set to basic children's needs sensing the direction of home, icecream-shops or your friends.
Tiny motors in the device create a haptic sensation on the skin when you tune into the direction and create a new relationship to your environment. It not just creates a haptic sensation for yourself but as part of the superheros it also displays the direction and visualizes it to your friends.
Which technique did you use to change the voice in the giraffe helmet?
K&C: We are using a telephone voice changer to make a kids voice sound like an adult.
Has working on this project taught you something you were not expecting about body perception and possible future body extensions?
K&C: All the devices in this series are working experiential prototypes so we could test the devices with kids. We were quite surprised how extreme the ant device changes the children's behaviors. Even a hyperactive kid moves very slow because the new 50x scale makes you feel sick if you would move at normal speed.
We are interested in perception and sensory enhancements for the body and we are also considering a series of toys that uses bio-sensors and can tune into biochemical animal communication.
C: The animal project inspired me to explore new ways of interacting with our instinctual animal-self, taking it from the toy level to an adult training tool. Our senses evolved to operate in a networked information age and the sense of smell for example is currently degenerated because we have fire-alarms. Evolutionary our emotions are still controlled with the reptile part of our brain. I am exploring how networked technology and human augmentation training tools can create a new awareness, augment instincts and train new reflexes and for today's survival.
Thanks Chris and Kenichi!
Images by Chris Woebken.
Designed by Rokos in collaboration with in collaboration with Kathrin Bohm and Andreas Lang, the object lowered your vision to ground level, and outwards, by the use of periscopes. The device was set off centre on a wheel to create the sensation of hopping.
The device comes with ears and a tail, so that onlookers can also understand the product's purpose.
Antony Hall's projects explore the way we interface with technology, and how our interactions with it influence us creatively and socially. Often collaborating with scientists and technologists, Hall is currently focusing his talent on the investigation of biological and physical phenomenon. Some of his recent experiments involve communication with an electric fish, the creation of life through growing crystals electrically on volcanic stone, hunting for Moss bears and training Planarian worms.
He gained fame in the media and media art festivals with his electro-acoustic sound art devices and performances. Together with Simon Blackmore and more recently Steve Symons, Hall is a founding member of the Owl Project, a group which combines woodwork with electronics to create performances, musical instruments (iLog , and Log1k) and other physical computing projects.
Let's start with one of your most popular projects: the iLog. How did you get the idea of making it?
The iLog was created as collaborative project with Simon Blackmore and Steve Symons, we are the Owl Project. We developed the Log1K in 2001 as a performance tool to attempt rival the laptop in electronic music, shortly after this apple started pushing the iPod and we had to make a response, something which related more to the trend for portable, mobile hand held technologies. We wanted our devices to be a synthesis of craft and technology, as well as functional instruments. The Log1ks were getting increasingly heavy, among other things they used nearly 30 AA batteries, short circuits and fires, and blown-out speakers were becoming common place. iLog 01 came out in 2003. After we started collaborating with Steve Symons, we reinvented the electronics inside the iLog and started pushing the whole project to a new level; the M-Log is out later this year.
There's now a series of iLog models. Why do you think people buy the iLog? Mainly as a beautiful and quirky piece of art which they would not use too much fearing that it might be damaged (although you provide technical support.)? Or have you found that people use it extensively as any other kind of musical device? Were you expecting your project to have so much success?
I suppose people want the iLog for its quirkiness, something as an alternative to the mass produced items. We had no idea that it would become so popular - people blogged it like mad at the start and like a Chinese whisper it suddenly became what people wanted it to be; typically some kind of alternative to the ipod - But in reality its something quite different. It is intended to be an instrument for performance.
Our problem is that although there is demand; making them is still very difficult, and time consuming, so our focus is making them better rather than faster. At the moment we are looking at lending these to artists and working in collaboration to develop the iLog further. When we launched them for sale in London at DWB it was a real learning curve. Simple things like which way up it should be held, were completely un-obvious! We had to create extensive instructions regarding use, as well as repair and maintenance. The 24 hour support is most necessary! Its important that its more hands on than your average mass produced plastic device.
The iLog is something people can use, rather than living all its life in the art gallery. The new series, *M-Log, launching this year, looks like an iLog, and is a USB connective interface. So there is scope for programming your own sensor based instrument, which you can use with your own customized patch. The iLog is more of a stand alone sound generator. We are planning an event in Manchester during Futuresonic where other performers (including Leafcutter John) will be using the iLogs & M-Logs. *The M in M-Log stands for 'muio' as in "muio interface", the chip based interface inside which Steve's invention in his words "The muio interface is a modular system for sensing and controlling the Real World".
The wood is quite resilient and very repairable if damaged.
I love The Sound Lathe, a performance which explores the sonic properties of wood. Do you have any video of it?
There is some video here:
It does look like a very physical performance. Did you have to master new skills in order to be able to do these performances? How does each performance go? Are they all different from each other? Does working with wood creates situations and results you wouldn't have expected?
Yes its been really interesting - my self and Simon ended up sleeping in a kind of bivouac deep in the forrest as part or the "R&D" for the project, learning the skills of traditional "green woodwork", (electricity free) with Mike Abbott, master crafts-person. Mike invented a competition for Bodgers (the name for people who use the 'pole Lathe') called 'Log to Leg' (as in chair leg) so this is the new format for our performance - I think the record is 9 mins; transforming a bit of tree stump, into two perfect chair legs! It takes us a couple hours, but then our lathe is connected to copious amounts of sensor interface technologies. Quite a distraction, if like for our last performance at Lovebytes, it rained torrentially for the whole thing. In the documentation you will see a tarpaulin underneath that are 3 laptops and Simon.
I think for all of us it's a welcome change from sitting behind a screen the whole time - these physical processes are a great compliment to programming and electronics; and they still require a similar kind of focus and discipline. It is quite exhausting, you need a lot a focus to keep the beat in time as well as make a good carving, in this way it becomes quite mediative. Sharpening the chisels and preparing the timber are all equally demanding skills to learn.
Can you tell us something about the wooden objects produced during the performances? Which kind of objects are there? And what do you do with them once the performance is over?
We have a box full of various objects; ranging in description from 'chair leg' to 'fire wood', or specialist 'rolling pin'. Occasionally we have a look inside & discuss what we should do with them. We did make a chair with Mike about the only truly useful thing we ever made. The latest idea is to make some kind of flat pack, or player. Watch this space. You can see what we decide to do with them at The Piemonte Share Festival, 11 - 16 March 2008.
You are also interested in bio-digital medicine. That sounds very different from a project like iLog. Can you explain us what it is and how you started to be interested in this field?
Well this is my own personal project, although I have always working with biology or technological experimentation in some way; with ENKi I decide to humanize what I do. This was a decision to move into medicine and treatment technologies. Really its the same things that we work with in the owl project; looking at how technology is consumed and sold. The notion of bio-digital medicine is just one example in hundreds, of how science, or even the suggestion of science is used, and misused to sell ideas. Faceless corporations feed on our anxieties, our basic need to feel contentment or feel complete. I find it interesting that, just as some people turn to religion, others will look to technology or science to provide answers and solutions.
ENKI uses the bioelectric information from an Electric Fish to trigger human Brain-wave Entrainment. It generates sound and light pulses to induce a state of relaxation similar to the way traditional relaxation systems work, but the electric communication signal comes from an electric fish rather than a chip.
Did you test the system on other people? How do they react?
So far we have tested it on about 40 volunteers,most of them members of the public who had no prior knowledge of the project. We did this in the context of the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry; people enjoy the experience generally. I was surprised at the range of people who were up for it!
By this point I had started working with Greg Byatt as a collaborator. He has experience of using this kind of technology and administering similar treatments professionally. Greg has equipment which can monitor your physiological state and a brain-wave visualiser (EEG); we were trying to measure results this way. We only really came to one solid conclusion. We had to do more tests.
Isn't the idea of putting one's "brain-wave entertainment" into the fins of an animal scary? Do you feel that people would trust any other electronic device more than a fish or any other type of animal?
That is a good question. It's an exciting notion this whole idea of "wet-wear" interfacing - but not something that should be taken lightly. I don't like to be on my own if i am doing a test run, and yes I find it very unnerving. I never quite got used to the idea of connecting strangers up to electrodes and the fish. I also worry about the fish. The fish needs to be content and 'happy' for this to work.
In my opinion that most of these commercial devices are made by various humans all of whom have different intentions and issues, namely cost efficiency; and so effectively using quite crude means; cheap microchips. The Black Ghost knife fish is the result of millions of years of evolutionary refinement; but you could still say the same of micro chips.
Is that project completely developed or is it still a work in progress?
It's in progress. I started working with "electrogenic" fish in 2005; ENKI technology was the title I gave it in 2006 when I was in residence at ENSAD in Paris. This was the point I realized I could create a treatment technology that might actually be functional. I had a bit of pressure to actually finish something and so launched the basic concept of ENKI technology. The funny thing was that reflecting on it now - that just marked a new beginning. (It took a year just to convince the director of Pepiniere that it was in fact a real project and not some conjecture in science fiction!). Coming to think of it I have never really finished anything, I am much more excited by the notion of continued experimentation. I don't want to finish discovering. The more I work on ENKI - the more things there are to do and try, it keeps opening up. There are always more questions.
What is there left to achieve? And how much have you learned about cross-species communication?
There is still a lot to achieve. The 'treatment' side is just one layer of the onion. I started the project with the aim of communicating with the fish, generating an electrical signal and transmitting this in the fish in the tank, to the fish. Then I watch the the fish, looking for behavioral 'interactions' with the electrodes - generally if there is an electrical (connective) change to the electrodes, the fish is aware of this and investigates the electrode by swimming near it and around it (motor-probing responses). I also listening for a 'chirp' response. The 'chirp' response is a subtle modulation of the Electric signal, a specific fluctuation in the wave. The 'chirp' is used during like species interaction and communication. This is closer to the idea of language we have.
Experimentally there are factors which make this difficult to measure - The fish learns to associate the vibrations created by me entering the studio & opening the tank with a food reward. So any approach to the tank needs to be made silently, and the fish needs to be 'conditioned' to learn this over a long time. As the project progressed I became more interested in communication as something closer to an idea of commune. For the fish I see the communication signal they make more as a deep expression of self; a projected physical extension of the fish body, rather than 'language' in an anthropological sense. This communication is happening at a more primal level. In terms of the ENKi project I am thinking about this as a biological, or physiological connection between living organisms.
I recently discovered that I might be having a problem with what is known as 'superstitious' behavior in the fish; if I was a scientist in the academic sense, this would be a serous flaw in the project; something to fix, but for me it was a fantastic turn, giving the project a new angle all together. Its now becoming an experiment into animal Psychology, not just electro physiology. I don't want to say too much about this next phase but next year the project will look quite different.
You recently developed the Opto-acoustic modulator and used it for an interactive work at FACT and Liverpool John Moores University for the National Science and Engineering Week. Can you give us more details about this interactive piece? How does it work? What were you trying to achieve with this project?
The commission was to create and interactive art work that used something other than keyborad or mouse. I was determined not to use a video camera either. The the Opto-acoustic modulator basically turns sound-waves into light-waves. It can take 10 audio channels and convert these into "AM" transmissions through 10 Light Emitting Diode arrays. I am fascinated by the notion of 'Amplitude Modulation' sending data using light waves. The idea was to use 'Hyalite' salt crystals, to broadcast sound through their 'ionizing' ambient glow. You interact with the light and can detect the data as sound using wearable sensors. Additionally, using Steve's 'muio' interface again, 8 light sensors detect movement around the crystals using a lens and light sensor (based on the idea a simple biological 'camera eye') these feed into MAX MSP controlling a soundscape.
I read on your statement page that you are currently "working on new experiments relating to the creation of life through growing crystals electrically on volcanic stone, hunting for Moss bears (Tardigrades; Fresh water extremophiles) and training Planarian worms. " Could you already tell us a few words about these experiments?
I have been researching the work of William Cross for quite a while, and finally decided that I needed to recreate his experiments (with a few modifications) It's quite interesting trying to work out what he did - the only way to know is to recreate it. In 1837, he found these creatures "Acari electors" as he called them infesting an experiment, he believed that these things "spontaneously generated" within his experiment, several eminent scientists of the time recreated the experiment with the same results! My experiment is basically a recreation of this experiment, augmented with a little more technology - with the aim of capturing this phenomena of electrochemical abiogenesis. The only problem is the experiment has to run for many months.
I am interested in all sorts fresh water microscopic life; its a great 19h century tradition. With a decent microscope, you can take any roadside moss cluster and explore the interstitial oceans of liquids trapped between damp moss filaments. Here you might be lucky enough to find a Moss Bear ( "Tardigrade" ) an obscure form of extremophile that lives in moss. Believe it or not, it really does look like a bear! This in its self was a reason for laboring days over a microscope just to see if it was real! They don't fit into the zoological classification system, and have been given a phylum of their own. It is believed it is able to survive space travel, and at this moment a small space capsule orbits the earth containing some "Tardinauts" (its hard to compete with that) I simply enjoy looking for them. I like to go looking for moss growing in all kinds of areas, from urban waste lands, to the Peak District. "Tardigrades" are able to survive about 120 years in a dehydrated state; I was sifting through very old moss samples from Manchester Museum to see if I could reanimate 100 year old dehydrated Moss Bears. apparently it is possible. I had a lot more luck looking for the living ones. Unfortunately my one Planarian worm recently went missing in the tank. It is 8mm long, and I dont have the heart to keep it in a petri dish. I am not sure where it is.
Is there any artist or researcher whose work has been particularly inspiring for you?
I don't know where to start! Louis Bec for sure. I am really into what SymbioticA have been doing over the past few years, and what they are doing for the "Bio-art" movement. Otherwise, at the moment I am looking at the work of William Bebe. To be honest - I have been trying to read a lot more science fiction lately, particularly 19th century science fiction, and science writing. Often the science fiction tells you a lot about the popular understanding of science at the time. More importantly, its a good antidote ploughing through contemporary research papers.
Related: El Niuton has a slideshow dedicated to the work of Simon Blackmore.
The theme of Susanna Hertrich's thesis at the Design Interactions department, RCA, in London, is a reflection on humans and animals in the context of "Human Enhancement": How much do we want to borrow from animals and what are the risks this would involve? How much of the animal is still living inside us? How much of the original animal that we once were has been has been lost in the evolution process?
The project that Susanna was showing at the work in progress show a few weeks ago is the Alertness Enhancing Device.
The risks we fear the most are often the ones most unlikely to be encountered. The human animal has lost its natural instinct for the real dangers. When worn directly on your skin, the Alertness Enhancing Device will act as a physical prosthesis for a lost natural instinct of the real fears and dangers that threaten us - as opposed to perceived risks that often cause a public outrage.
The idea is it stimulates goosebumps and shivers that go down your spine and make your neck hair stand up, waking up the alert animal inside. You become more alert and ready for the real dangers in life.
Why would we need such device? Studies on risk perception show that many people are seriously afraid of terrorist attacks and their anxiety is heavily exploited in media and politics. A look at statistics shows that the probability of becoming a victim of terrorism is quite small. Meanwhile other real hazards are perceived as rather uninteresting and raise far less fear, for example environmental pollution or car traffic.
While we consciously know what are the things that really threatens us, we tend to dedicate much more of attention to spectacular disasters with many deaths.
That's when the Alertness Enhancing Device comes in. If you feel dispassionate and bored when reading news stories about another environmental pollution scandal, it's probably time to turn the dial of the device on.
And since it's a wearable device, you can even alert yourself in any situation, even in public contexts.
"The project is pretty much in a work-in-progress state," explains Susanna. "What I've shown in the exhibition was "just" a form prototype, but I have been experimenting with micro-current stimulations. This is quite unpleasant if placed between your shoulder blades and on your neck, but not as "in your face" as a plain electrical shocks. And...it allows you can alter the current, so you can decide how much you can take for now. Which is how I intend this first prototype to work."
How is the project going to evolve?
"For the next version I plan to work with much more sophisticated sensations on the skin than microcurrents. The project now has shifted more into "skin as interface" and I plan to play with "apparent movement" sensations and "somatosensory illusions" as beeing explored in haptic research. I'm currently in touch with scientists in London and Tokyo to get an insight into how these things work and how I can use those techniques.
All images courtesy of Susanna Hertrich.
Ticker Tape is an internet radio for people who suffer from Euphobia, "a persistent, abnormal and unwanted fear of hearing good news". Designed by Will Carey, it was exhibited at the work in progress show of the RCA in London a few weeks ago.
Ticker Tape is a working prototype that simulates the interaction but as this was a project done in only two weeks some details are still to be fixed. Using RSS feeds, Ticker Tape scans for light-hearted news stories from around the world broadcasting them to the listener who can manage the content via the Ticker Tape website (still in construction).
Pulling the cord allows the user to choose the duration of the broadcast.
The origin of the news stories can be selected by the dial on the top of the radio.
This project explores playful interfaces for the future of digital radio, and is part of wider ongoing research.
As Will was in Tokyo when i visited the show, i wrote him to get more information on the radio:
The first time i read the description of the project, I thought the radio was meant for people who are afraid of bad news. But it is the exact opposite. You created it for people suffering from "euphobia". Do such people really exist?
Yes they do, although very few people experience this condition. The intention was to use a phobia as a starting point for the design process, and the radio was inspired by euphobia, a persistent, abnormal and unwanted fear of hearing good news.
So why not make the radio that everyone would expect, the one that people who hate hearing bad news would want to buy?
I think this would leave less to the imagination. I wanted to suggest how someone who really suffers from such a fear could overcome it, either via team therapy or by getting used to hearing good news once they had had the initial support from a therapist. By pulling the tape the person can acclimatise themselves to hearing good news in small measured doses.
While the original intent is to cure a phobia, it can also be used to create more insightful solutions for interaction with technology. (This is not to say that one is trying to make light of what are indeed serious and real fears. But changing ones mindset as a designer and moving away from marketing-driven design and thinking about solutions from a completely different perspective, can encourage new interactions and designs to emerge.)
Ticker Tape has a very sleek, pure and shiny design, does this reflect its own "mission"?
The design has considered a neutral and inviting form, which means you almost have to encounter the object and discover out how it works, yet there are some cues and signs that it is a domestic product. I wanted the radio to be made from ceramic the prototype is plastic, perhaps that is why its so shiny. The void running through the object is for the speaker and the overall form is inspired by an old Braun SK25 radio designed by Dr Fritz Eichler in 1955.
All images courtesy of Will Carey.
The project that Zoe Papadopoulou presented at the RCA work in progress last week show ticks all the right boxes: there's the knitting, the sense of humour and the techno-induced diseases.
The solution imagined by the young designer is to cover all electronic devices in the house with a cozy. By weaving a thin thread of copper in the wool and grounding it, she ensures that the electromagnetic fields are blocked.
According to the designer, the shields work better on some objects than on others. The microwave and radio cozies for example block the waves very well. It seems to depend on the density of the knits and the thickness of the copper wire.
All images courtesy of Zoe Papadopoulou.