A few weeks ago, Rafael Mizrahi told me about the 4th Kinnernet, a hyper-geek event organized each year on the southern shores of the Sea of Galilee (Kinneret Lake) in northern Israel. I checked out the website and started bombarding Rafael with questions "What's this robots?" "And that vehicle?" "How about this gaming arcade?" Here's a few notes from our conversation:

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Computer Crash Course and Game Rider

Set up in cooperation with Hubert Burda Media, creators of DLD conference, and following Tim O’Reilly's Foo Camp, KinnerNet intvited about 150 technology addicts and creative people to gather informally and discuss topics and concepts such as software development, internet culture, social networks, web services, Wi-Fi, open source, cellular services, computer games, interactive TV, VOIP, technological trends, gadgets, security, etc. The general purpose is to share thoughts, work-in-progress, show off the latest tech toys and hardware hacks, and tackle challenging problems. The camp is a closed and private event and participating to it means contributing.

Rafael defines himself as an "artificial vision explorer" at Feng-GUI lab (which developed the ViewFinder, an algorithm that simulates the human eyes and brain and what would be the gaze path of the eye movements while being exposed to visuals. Similar algorithms are embedded into robots) and a member of GarageGeeks (which looks like "crazy projects paradise".)

As part of the Robot Extravaganza of KinnerNet 2007 camp, he presented the GuitarHeroNoid which he built together with Tal Chalozin. The full-scale humanoid autonomously plays the Sony PlayStation game Guitar Hero II (video of GuitarHeroNoid playing the song Woman by Wolfmother).

0guitarheoooo.jpgCan you tell us more about the robot that plays the PlayStation game "Guitar Hero"? How does it work and play?

At the game, each song is presented on a set of five columns, resembling a real guitar fret board, that scroll constantly towards the player. The five columns correspond to the five fret buttons and appropriately colored notes appear in these columns.
We connected the PlayStation video output using a capture device into a computer and by live video streaming filter capture the video frames as images. Each image is being processed and the detected notes are sent through the parallel output or through network cable directly into the robot. This distributed architecture is also used by a robotics bio-technology called Remote Surgery :) and actually this distribution saved us when my parallel output was burned by an electric shock coming back from the robot solenoids, and we separated the process into two laptops.

Tal built computer-controlled, solenoids fingers that matched the fret board and strings in the game. Getting the fingers to press the fret buttons and hit the strum correctly was the hard part.

Tal took a storeroom mannequin and positioned the arms to hold the guitar. But the arms couldn’t be put in the right position, so he had to break and glue them to hold the guitar right. All the robot wiring is inside the mannequin ending at a control panel on the back of its neck.

This first public demonstration of GuitarHeroNoid received a rock star ovation from the ultra-geek audience. We also prepared a multiplayer mode, so you can play against the robot. Pushing the envelope higher, maybe next year we will build a robot that plays the game “dance dance revolution? (known as Dancing Stage in Europe).

Now how about "Real Pacman"?

The Real Pac Man (Tal Chalozin, Niv Efron) main idea was to build some old school tech symbol using as much nowadays-technologies as we can find. Right away we knew that we want a large scale game that will give the feeling of the "PacMan come to life..."
The game board made of a projector mounted on a stand, projecting a 15-square-meters game board on the floor. The PacMan was a wireless Pac-look-a-like robot which "drives" over a game board, equipped by RFID reader, Bluetooth transceiver controlled by ATMEL microcontroller, riding on a game board marked with RFID tags.
At the button of the PacMan there is an RFID reader that reads the tag location and sends it back to the game "engine". The game engine is a java game we hacked, running on a laptop computer.

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The result is that you are playing with a completely realistic PacMan over a full virtual game board, but they communicate as if they are one.

To make it more useless tech powered, we've written a J2ME application running on a cellular phone for controlling the PacMan. So, instead of playing with the laptop keyboard, you play the game on your cell, which sends via Bluetooth the control commands.
The next step is to make it a multiplayer, PacMan and ghosts...

Pac Man does not get anymore realistic than that!

All around the room were screens and gaming consoles and a hydraulic driving simulator, so you could just sit down and rumble. At the center of the gaming room there were two home made arcade tables, one crafted by Davidi Silberstein and the other by Amit Jurgenson, both musicians, handy-men and old-school gamers.

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Arcade Machine Quest and Amit's Arcade Machine

And the hydraulic driving simulator?

DidiWarmAndSpider.jpgPower tool drag racing took place inside a large and crowded tent. Crossing the middle of the tent, were two long wooden strip tracks in which the racers ran, dragging their electricity cables behind them. The race judges where Michael Shiloh, co-founder of MakingThings and an annual participant of drag racing, World class notorious hacker Pablos Holman who breaks and builds new technologies and Eyal Gever with the "from a designer perspective" opinion.

Image on the right: Vladimir's Warm vs. Shy Vardi's Spider (photo: Yaniv Golan)

Of course, the fastest racers were the ones Michael and Pablos brought. Michael had Jim Mason's blazing fast "monorail" that runs as a monorail train on top of one of the sides of the track, and Pablos had borrowed an "Old Killdoggie" model racer, which is a modified grinder with inline-skate wheels. But getting first to the end of the track is not the goal of such a race.

At least half of the races were built by Yedidya (Didi) Vardi and his crew. Didi, a junk collector, designer of hands-on science models and screws-and-bolts seller. On Didi's team were Shy Vardi, Vladimir Zviagintsev an aircraft engineer, who built the kites that were raised to thousands of feet in height, and Shlomo Abayoff.

Babylon Tower Racer was built by the GarageGeeks Zvika Netter, Yuval Tal, Ohad Pressman, Gil Hirsch and Tal Chalozin. A laptop sitting on a wagon with electric lawnmower wheels, motivated to move forward by SMS sent by the audience to Yuval’s phone number. Each time an SMS arrived, the light blob was blinked the message in morse code, and a Text-to-Speech algorithm announced the message using the racer's speakers.

More racers such as the bottle Xylophone, playing on bottles set at the sides of the track, containing various amount of water for different tones. A CleanTech racer that needed no electricity but the moments of falling parts, Vacuuming Hovercraft, Skateboard Ventilator, and Parking, which actually did park most of the time and didn't finish the race.

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Crocodile "rocket" Handy by Naama, Achi and Yariv

KinnerNet looks like a hell of fun. Why is the number of participants limited to 150?
Are there like-minded events in the country during the rest of the year?

KinnerNet is a a lot of fun and in order to participate, you have to contribute and not act as a "camp potato". I guess that the number is limited because only super geeks are invited. Since there are many people who wish to share and expand their connections, forks of miscellaneous camps and events are being formed. For example, GeekCon, EureKamp, and even us, the GarageGeeks are hosting (images) content evenings, barbeques and Gaming Lan Parties (images.)

I saw on the programme that there was some place dedicated to digital art? What happened there? Any good work you'd like to highlight?

I think digital art was everywhere. In the evening we all gathered in the dining room and watched videos prepared by participants. Michal Levy, for example, a saxophonist and graphic designer, presented a beautiful visual interpretation that she made for John Coltrane's Giant Steps.

We were asked to bring from home any junk we don’t need anymore and Hanoch Piven hosted a face making workshop that was one of the most popular happenings. Hanoch has been making collages with objects - mainly illustrations of faces for magazines and newspapers since 1992.

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The GraffitiPrinter

Ariel Schlesinger, presented his GraffitiPrinter, a handheld printer, feed from punch card that translates to spray writing on the wall.

Inside a large room, Ezri Tarazi along with the creative industrial designers Maayan Hagar and Yasmin Yotam, and anyone who wished to help, built a chain reaction sculpture called a machine that does something that does something.
Next to that sculpture, and the Superman Simulator, Didi Vardi presented his Vibrating Laser Balls Organ, a 400 pound golf-ball-and-aluminum Stradivarius, a wonderful, real musical instrument inspired by the Animusic's virtual Pipe Dream. (video)

I'm also very curious about the Cooking Madness event. Was there anything edible there? What does "Cotton Candy with ambient touch" taste like for example?

BurningBicycleMan1.jpgCooking Madness was more than edible all right. As you cannot be in all of the activities, I didn’t get the chance to taste that Fluffy Clouds Cotton Candy. But I ate two pieces from Tal's mother’s terrific passion fruit cheese cake, which was introduced by 3 Powerpoint slides at the camp's first gathering. Most of the time I stood next to Yuval Tal who prepared the Extra alcoholic chocolate drink, and verified the quality of the cocktail.

At night, things were getting weirder, people juggling, geeks playing arcades or fighting each other with light sabres, and Vladimir, inspired by The Burning Man Project, was riding a bicycle while dragging another bicycle with a burning doll, which was created earlier by Didi's team.

I’d like to finish by send a enormous thanks and hugs to anyone who helped in the great 2007 KinnerNet event and also thank Yaniv Golan and Alex Sirota for the photos.

Thanks Rafael!

A last tip from Rafael: Gil Rimon and Lior Katz's Supermarket 2.0 parody (video.)

More images at Flickr tag KinnerNet2007. Photo of GuitarHeroNoid by Yaniv Golan. More images.

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ICC in Tokyo is currently running an exhibition called OpenSky2.0, which showcases various artifacts relevant to Kazuhiko Hachiya's ambitious ongoing project with its ultimate goal of developing a personal "flying machine."

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Hachiya's previous works include Inter Dis-Communication Machine, Seeing Is Believing, AirBoard (a jet-powered skateboard) -- to name a few. He's also the creator of PostPet, a popular email client application in which Kawaii digital pets take care of email messages.

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The sky so far seems to be a "closed" space in which "end-users" cannot easily participate in. Imagine an "open" sky in which anyone can fly freely -- it would be so nice -- but making it actually happen would be extremely difficult. The OpenSky project started in 2003 and, so far, a flying machine was designed, a half-size radio-controlled prototype was built, a full-size aircraft was built and tested. It is being integrated with jet engines and the plan is to test the next version of the flying machine with a person on board. The exhibition will last till March 11.

0troiooih.jpgAnother one of my favourite projects at the RCA Design Interactions show: Tuur Van Balen's Larry’s Pillow - Goodnight/Good-bye.

If you're one of the very few who actually listen to the security announcement made just before take off on a plane, then you know that in case of emergency you're supposed to adopt a "brace position." Apparently the only thing the brace position can do for you is preserve your dental records in case of a crash. It keeps your teeth close to your seat number and makes identification easier for the forensic team.

Larry’s Pillow gives you back some of the control you crave for in a moment of flight danger. In case of emergency, it helps you to take the brace position and straps you up securely. If you then choose to pull the tag, the pillow will inflate and suffocate you. You’re thus in control over your own life and death. As the sense of losing all control not only exists in aeroplanes, in development are pillows designed for the office and domestic environment. For stockbrokers, board-members, housewives and teenagers.

0amenittii.jpgWhile technological progress makes it easier to travel and to stay in contact with remote places, physical movement remains restricted and under control.

Travelbox is similar to the boxes used to carry pieces of art, but is adapted for the transport of people, in particular those who have to travel hidden under a truck or on an overcrowded boat.

Made of wood, measuring 150x150x100cm, it comes with amenities: reading tablet, safety belt, an electric battery provides running water, light and ventilation and the guarantee that its occupant will remain unseen. It doesn't provide less comfort than any trip in tourist class (looks even better than Ryanair: no rude air attendant!)

The Travelbox is part of the Wayaway project, a comment on some of the trends that shape our society: immigration, globalization, Eurocentrism, marketing, the exploitation of developing countries, and the hypocritical attitudes of western societies.

The prototype has travelled to: Spain, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Guatemala, Colombia, etc.

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Still from the accompanying video

A work by El Perro.

0letipeetlechien.jpgYesterday i was in Turin. And bored (nothing new under the sun thus) so i followed exibart's advice and visited the Guido Costa Projects gallery.

Paul Etienne Lincoln was exhibiting for the first time the Panhard Special, a spectacular insect-looking vehicle planned and realised in 1976 and modified over the years. The life-sized prototype car is powered by an improved Panhard Levassor Tigre engine (launched in 1959) and fuelled by nitrous oxide, natural gas and linseed oil.

The construction started thirty years ago, in the midst of the first oil crisis when alternative energy sources were investigated. The work explores "breathing" (the introduction of oxygen and fuel into the combustion chamber of an engine.) The goal was to create a vehicle with the cleanest possible combustion engine, and probe the theme of respiration and the man/machine relationship.

Each part of the vehicle was designed and realized manually, with a partial knowledge of engineering and without using pieces already available on the market. The Panhard Special combines principles from early aviation and automobile design: its air-cooled Tigre engine is reminescent of the aluminium-clad nose of The Spirit of St Louis.

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A specially designed suit allows the driver to precisely control the heated airflow from the engine to adjust his/her own body temperature. The suit, with a multitude of tubing sewn into a waistcoat, plugs via a tube into a control valve in the cockpit. Besides, inflatable implants in the back of the inner jacket insulate the driver from vibration, increased speed resulting in increased pressure in the implants.

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The vehicle was accompanied by a collection of material describing the car's internal fuel system and construction history as well as a short film, The Velocity of Thought, that shows the Special driven up through the spiral ramp of Giacomo Mattè Trucco's Lingotto factory to Lingotto's iconic rooftop test track.

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Car chase on Lingotto's rooftop in The Italian Job

All information taken from the exhibition catalogue. On view until February 10, at the Guido Costa Projects gallery, in Via Mazzini 24, Turin. Big big thanks to the person who opened the gallery for us, let us enjoy the exhibition in peace and gave me the catalog.

Images on flickr.

Other re-vamped cars: old East German Trabant turned into an American Chevrolet El Camino; doorless BMW with its wanking robot hand.

0senseable7.jpgThe MIT Senseable City project had a big room inside the Italian Pavilion of the Biennale this year. So i'll just focus on that room for the moment, 'kay? The Italian pavilion is always a glorious mess. Loads of nice surprises in there but i never know how to make sense of it.

All the projects selected deal with specific aspects of the urban environment and digital technology. The star of the show was Real Time Rome, an information visualization system that combines different datasets in a single interface to reveal the rhythm of the Italian capital in real time.

Part of the room was dedicated to the work developed at the Tangible Media Group, headed by Hiroshi Ishii. Three kinds of Tangible Bits were demonstrating how artefacts can give physical form to digital information, making bits directly manipulable and perceptible.

Pinwheels are spinning in a digital wind from cyberspace (such as network traffic), showing how physical information can be communicated within an architectural space in subtle and aesthetically pleasing ways. The five sets of pinwheels in the room are connected to the Real Time Rome data and indicate the number of people visiting the Colosseo, Piazza San Pietro and other monuments of Rome. Faster movement and stronger wind indicate a higher number of people at the
monument at the current moment.

Five Ambient Orbs are connected to the Real Time Rome data and indicate the level of traffic congestion at different traffic intersections in Rome.
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I was quite glad to finally get to see SandScape (image on the right), only that it was out of order then i visited the Biennale. This interface allows to design and understand landscapes through computational simulations using sand. These simulations are projected on the surface of a sand model that represents the terrain and you can choose from a variety of simulations that highlight either the height, slope, contours, shadows, drainage or aspect of the landscape model. You can alter the form of the landscape model by manipulating sand while seeing the resultant effects of computational analysis projected on the surface of sand.

Several information panels were detailing how the MIT BUS projects would revolutionalize the experience of taking the bus. From the bus stop to the the structure of the bus itself to its route.

With network and computational support, bus routes can become self-organizing systems in space and time much in the way of private automobiles and taxis, rather than structures with fixed routes and timetables. In the self-organizing bus system, bus operators would keep track of vehicle movements, electronically monitor demand from minute to minute, and responsively allocate service capacity to where it is needed most.

In addition, by means of mobile devices, passengers can be informed of when and where service will be available.

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The researchers had also imagined a "reconfigurable" bus. Instead of a long, narrow box on wheels, buses could become flexible and wiggle themselves through the streets in a more agile fashion.

Buses can also become mobile network nodes (we've been promised that for years guys, can't wait to get that), so that passengers are connected for guidance, entertainment and mobile work. Both interior
and exterior surfaces can carry information displays. More in MIT: RATP.

The Zaragoza Digital Mile is ubicom dream landing in Spain. Digital media would be integrated into everyday aspects of the public realm to make it more flexible and adaptable to different users, activities, or moods?

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The spaces, parks and buildings on the Digital Mile include free wifi as well as open access to the digital systems and responsive media elements located along the Mile.

There's a WATER WALL, a fountain where people can digitally control the streams of water. With a command – by jumping into the water or sending a message through an electronic device – the water can start and stop or change in pressure. Streetlight would change color or intensity in response to the time of day, demands for use, or artistic
desires. Digital street furniture -cafe tables, bus stops, and signage- display menus, bus arrivals, or the location of available parking spaces.

Affixed to the facades of buildings, URBAN PIXELS delineate the edges of the Zaragoza Digital Mile from the rest of the city. When viewed from the air or from the ground this ‘light’ footprint emphasizes
different moods or zones along the Digital Mile. Each pixel unit includes a solar charging unit and can be programmed wirelessly.

0toutpetittt.jpgThe MEMORY WALK makes visible the way people travel through the city by recording pedestrians’ steps across a space. Every time a footstep falls on a digital paver, the paver emits an additional increment of light. As people cross the pavement, paths of light are illuminated where people tread the most.

Last one, DIGITAL AWNINGS are screens that can rotate up, down, left, and right in response to people’s physical movements, or in the service of a collective special event.

There was also the prototype of an interactive bus stop. It could be used as a trip planning map, you place a finger on your destination and the bus stop will draw the shortest bus-travel path from where you are. Using GPS technology, it will also show you where the relevant buses are positioned in real time and when they will arrive at your desired destination. You can beam this itinerary to your mobile phone, or request an SMS notification when the bus is almost at your location if you don't want to wait there.

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Besides, riders and passers-by can create digital graffiti or post ads or announcements on the bus stop by drawing with their fingers on the surface or by sending an image from their mobile phones.

Each bus stop is also a wireless Internet hotspot. All bus stops in the network are connected through a wireless meshed network, thus
spreading Wireless Fidelity WiFi Internet in the city. This allows people to receive location based services through their mobile devices.

Finally, the number of bus riders at a given location determines the size of the bus shelter, varying the length of the roof, bench and touch screen, which are customized at low cost using computer aided
design and manufacturing (CAD-CAM) techniques. The roof, like a tree, changes from full opacity to transparency and adapts to weather conditions like sun and rain. It uses a Moorish pattern found in Zaragoza's Aljaferia Palace.
The bench itself is formed by raising the ground using a CAD-CAM structure. The position and shape of the bench depend on its relation
to the sun and roof in order always to provide areas of shaded seating. Photovoltaic cells placed on the bus stop's roof provide up to 50% of the power required for its operation in Zaragoza.

My images on flickr.

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