Friday, October 30, 2009

Dutch Design Week '09, a synopsis

And so the Dutch creative class keeps on exploring the increasing entwinement of technology, science, design, and socio-cultural issues. In case you have not made it to visit the Netherlands for the Dutch Design Week this year, here is a short recap including some interesting projects. Above you see my own graduation project's stand at the Eindhoven University of Technology, that demonstrates a wearable yoga system.

Abstract objects sewn together from insect wings.

A sculpture of what could be a genetically re-engineered giraffe.

From the same artist, a giraffe blob.

A chair that acts as a scaffold for the plant that grows inside, so you end up with a plant in the shape of a chair. The Dutch are definitely getting more and more radically into their skill of manipulating nature.

Metal objects that keep you warm in bed; simply plug them into the wall and cuddle them.

Garments grown from bacterial tissue.

A sink that reconnects people to the natural quality of water. The water starts on the upper platform, slowly flowing down and seeping onto the lower one, that looks as if its shape has naturally been worn away by the water. Still this seems a postmodernization of nature, rendering it into a symbol, so I doubt that it really gives people an intuitive sense of 'nature' and them being an inextricable part of it.

As I understood it, this is a shower for animals that you can also use to slaughter them in. This way, you either have the choice to treat them in a more human, subjective way, or in an objectified, consumptive way. The ambiguity of the technology here could in the end make for a more complex and empathic relationship between man and his fellow-animals.

This is a light that emulates the sun in physically opening and closing depending on the amount of natural light outside.

wall painted animation

This collaborative animation "COMBO" between Blu and David Ellis makes for some perfect lunchtime eye-candy.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

happiness in a hat

Of course this 'happiness hat' is at first sight a fake happiness inducing technology to cover up today's widely prevailing existential insecurity. What looks like a good lunchtime laugh, is still interesting to me. It is highly paternalistic in approach of course, although if people stay open and choose to produce a genuine smile as opposed to an enforced one with underlying frustration staying behind as a residue, I think people can also come to grow the neural connections to enlighten them on a cognitive level. But it takes a lot for people to get this harsh on themselves and let go of all they are clinging on to that keeps them from true free, enlightened happiness.

Petman, a brain on legs

Ok, so earlier I was commenting how the Japanese seemed to be shifting from androids to elegant, minimal, abstract and more human-centred technology. Not so much for American robotics vanguard Boston Dynamics, who are pursuing "physics-based human simulation", and do it in a technologically very sophisticated way. Their 'Petman' project involves a pure biped that adjusts its motions dynamically to its environment, akin to their quadruped system 'Big Dog'. It still looks a bit rough and clumsy, but this is definitely coming eerily close to humanlike locomotion.

I'm still on the outlook for a robotics project where a strong socio-cultural, political, philosophical but moreover artistic vision meets high technology and high design.

foam chair

What I love about Yu-Ying Wu's 'breathing' chair is that it is such a simple example of a very sophisticated design philosophy. I namely very much resonate with the idea that intelligence should be a potentiality of form, growing through explorative embodied interaction to an optimal end-state. When a system stays open ended and does not force a certain static pattern onto an individual, this optimal state can then be attuned to each individual, and in return the individual will naturally become more open to adaptation himself too. This object, that has a simple pattern of holes that increasingly grow in size throughout the shape, does not tell people it 'is' a chair, or meant to sit on in a certain way, like most chairs quite paternalistically do. Instead, it is just being itself, not distanced but also not attached to the human form a priori. It offers a physicality that invites people to interact and play, and through that function arises. Like this, objects become intimately coupled to the human body through all the complex and unpredictable visceral interactions it can elicit.

Air Guitar Hero

After seeing this movie you have to conclude that doing academic research is not so bad. Here's some interesting research called "Enabling Always-Available Input with Muscle-Computer Interfaces" that was presented on the ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology (UIST'09) in Victoria, BC. But *poke poke* really guys, you just wanted to be able to play Guitar Hero in mid-air, didn't you.

But of course, it's definitely mind- and bodybogglingly interesting to make human computer interfaces more intimately connected to the human body, therethrough getting closer and closer to the actual motor neurons instead of only connecting technological artefacts to the end effectors of the infinitely complex and self-optimizing systems that our bodies are.

Honda U3-X

Finally the Japanese seem to be moving from recreating humans to empowering human bodies. Honda's latest contraption is called the U3-X and is basically a high-tech motorized unicycle that balances itself through the employment of an inclinometer, and can move in all directions over a surface because of the 'HOT' (Honda Omni Traction) system. So things are little by little getting nice, compact and producty and maybe soon we will truly have a cyborg society. For the next evolutionary step in human locomotion I would like to see a system that can morph in order to allow you to sit on it in offices, use it as an active exoskeleton to enhance walking and running, and even as a kind of go-kart to facilitate participation in higher speed traffic.

Monday, October 26, 2009

transparent walls on demand

This augmented reality trick reminds me of the good old Doom cheat code that let you walk through walls. I just wonder if all this augmented data will not draw us further away from an embodied existence and only confuse us more. With these augmented reality systems I always have the feeling that we should not aim to provide people with more data, but with means to have people refine their perceptual skill so they can develop a deeper connection with things they choose to perceive.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

soft morphing robots

Organic technology, anthropomorphization of the technosphere, a becoming one of man and his world, inextricably melting subjects and objects...abstract language that can easily confuse minds that have trouble concentrating. But how much more powerful is this little movie an example of these developments. Apparently iRobot is doing pretty wild visionary stuff too, so the way to industry apparently is closer than if this were ivory-tower lab style work.

Bits of couscous and zucchini drool out of my mouth as I watched this in awe, and I've been exposed to a lot. This is truly paradigm breaking, but more than that, it is starting to match my innermost dreams. Have the movie impact you directly, viscerally, no need to say more because it is completely self-explanatory.

Monday, October 12, 2009

ID'09 graduation galleries at Dutch Design Week 2009

Photos: Bart van Overbeeke

Nearing is the time for the Dutch Design Week 2009, that will take place from October 17th until the 25th in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. I would recommend you to, next to the Design Academy, take a look at the graduation projects of Eindhoven University of Technology. This young school is quickly maturing and producing interesting interactive concepts for future products. You can even try out some prototypes for a personal experience.

My own project, Flowtime, an electronic vest for yoga practice, will also be featured in this exhibition, and the prototype is available for all to see.

So mark your agendas: October 17-25, ID'09, main building at the Eindhoven University of Technology.

See you there!

a meat world

With titles like 'Kiss the fat' for her paintings that aesthetically glorify meat, Victoria Reynolds seems to emphasize the intricate and sensual beauty of biological material. After the rise of modernism, people evidently became alienated from this, even up to a point where it is a taboo to even speak about such things and feelings of disgust are conditioned into us associated with these realms of perception.

But in the future, the organic will become ours to create, giving us a new toolkit to construct our world with. Already, functioning hearts, livers and fleshly objects alike can be grown on demand from mice cells. It is time we face the perspective that we are just a bunch of cells, like any other organism, and incorporate flesh into our daily awareness.

But besides that, I also find it just a fantastic choice of medium to depict these abstract structures of flesh like a 17th century Baroque oil painting, and shows us how things like nature don't mean much to us anymore. Instead, we came to prefer creating our own world, and in that increasingly match the complexity of the nature that gave rise to our own nascence. I'd say yes to a world made of pulsating, throbbing, interacting and interconnected structures of meat, instead of all this cold concrete we live in now.

Monday, October 5, 2009

unraveling the brain

This hourlong lecture by Thomas M. Jessel is highly recommended for anyone interested in the workings of the brain and the importance of embodiment. He explains up to a molecular level the development of the nervous system and its interaction with an organism's morphology. One striking explanation is about how sheep can be born with one eye in the center of the head as a result of a lower concentration of sonic hedhehog signalling. Another is how the nervous system continuously grows through a growth cone at the tip of each axon, which gets stimulated or inhibited by its local environment and thus connects to muscles in highly intricate ways.

computer tumor

Japanese artist Mio I-Zawa has created this informative tumor to represent the CPU load of the computer one is interacting with, to give rise to a visceral embodied connection between human and machine.

Saturday, October 3, 2009


Some more eye-candy. This, to me, has a very techno-spiritual high-tech-new-age feel to it.

pedaling together with your petbot

How obsolete do we actually want our bodies to become?

Will our morphology remain only to be a symbol?

It looks cute though, riding a tandem bike with your home robot. But this tempting cuteness is a simplificating slippery slope!

solid = liquid = gaseous

Nice piece of abstract eye-candy by Kultnation. Get ready for a world where our interactivity is expanded into the realms of the atmospherical.

Friday, October 2, 2009

photoshop your world on the fly

Change the perceived world with the tip of a finger through augmented reality photoshop glasses. But: as always when we create an idealized virtual realm in which we feel comfortable, we fragment our reality and a holistic understanding and oneness with it for the sake of temporary pleasure. This is why virtual technologies that abstract us from a physical embodiment are such a slippery slope, and this movie shows that very lucidly.