Sunday, November 21, 2010

New materials for industrial designers

These days we see a lot of searching by designers and artists for new materials that better fit the global mindset of today. Many of these materials though are only applicable for a small set of products, need a laborious production process, or are simply too expensive to make it to the mass-markets. And thus most of our products are still made of the conventional materials, with especially plastic being the material that we will want to replace soon. So what materials have real potential to become wide-spread in consumer products of the near future? I created a small collection of such materials, and put them in a document which you can download here.

Here is my personal top 5 of favorite materials:

1. Liquid wood
Arboform, nicknamed ‘liquid wood’, is an injection moldable and extrudable material composed of lignin, a natural polymer, and cellulose. It has the look of wood, but is cheaper, although more expensive than regular plastic, while almost being carbon-neutral. A unique property is that Arboform can be produced to be anywhere between flexible and rigid. It has been used in shoe soles, egg cups, toys, and for Ford’s automotive interiors.

2. Hydrogels
Hydrogels can be made by mixing water with a small amount of clay, salt, and organic components, which can then be molded into shape. The polymers will have bonded with the water, so the resulting hydrogel cannot be dissolved into water anymore. Maybe contrary to intuition, a hydrogel can have an exceptional mechanical strength when bonded to clay. Depending on the amount of clay used, a hydrogel can be highly transparent. Other unique properties of hydrogels are that they will heal themselves very rapidly, and will slowly recover their shape even after being subjected to high stresses. Their possible biodegradability, furthermore, makes hydrogels a chance-worthy candidate as a replacement for plastics. The research into this material is recent, so it is not ready yet for mass-production.

3. Liquidmetal
Liquidmetal is a metallic glass that looks like metal and can be processed like plastic – blow molding, injection molding, it’s all possible. It’s twice as strong as titanium, and almost unbendable by hand. This makes it possible to create parts with extremely thin walls. Apple has already licensed the intellectual property rights to the material worldwide, and is likely going to incorporate it in the chassis for devices like the iPhone, Macbook, and iPad. Other applications are sporting equipment like skis and baseball bats, USB drives, and watches.
Since using Liquidmetal does require a complete change in manufacturing structure, only few companies will allow themselves to take the risks coming with that, though in the future this material might become widespread pretty quickly.

4. Electroactive polymers
Polymers have been developed that change shape when subjected to electrical impulses. So far they’ve mostly been applied in robots, but it’s not hard to imagine these materials being used in self-actuating product exteriors of the future. You can also think of these being used in soft architecture, car bodies that can change shape, and studies are being done as well to incorporate EAPs into car tires in order to dynamically change their tread.

Compared to shape memory alloys such as Nitinol, electroactive polymers are superior in their spectral response, lower density, and resilience. A disadvantage to both shape memory alloys and electroactive ceramics is the lower actuation stress of EAPs.

Smart polymer gels are another class of cutting-edge shape changing polymers. These swell or shrink up to a factor of 1000 in response to stimuli such as temperature, light, magnetic fields, or a solvent. It is even possible for a polymer gel to change from opaque to transparent. Applications of smart polymer gels are mainly chemical, biological, or medical, but we can imagine these gels being used in future products. A hard drive may swell as it stores more data, a piece of jewelry might change shape, a toy animal may breathe, or a shirt may become tighter in order to simulate a hug or comfort people who can use it to calm down.

5. Auxetic foam
Imagine a foam – now pull it, and as you pull it, you will probably imagine it to contract due to the stress. Now picture the foam to actually expand as you stretch it. This is an auxetic foam, which has a zigzagged, bowtie-like internal structure, not unlike the famous Hoberman spheres, that makes the foam expand when pulled. Such a foam absorbs more energy and low-frequency sound than a conventional foam, at about 2 to 3 times the price. The material is usually a thermoplastic foam, but it’s also possible to create thermosetting and metal auxetic foams. Potential applications are in medical, athletic, and cleaning products.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Life inside a cell animated

This is what the common human being needs; a visually interesting depiction of how a cell works, not with words and science, but pure visuals. It is stunning, and it's hard to imagine that every cell of our bodies is as complex and coordinated as a universe, but this does give us a better idea of the incredible system that our body is. The molecules you see are modelled after the structure of real molecules, although a lot of assumptions had to be made. But more important than scientific accuracy is how it can open the mind of the common human being.

Watch the animation here:

You can also watch the animation's predecessor, that has already been featured on this blog, here:

Space tourism by 2014

Space tourism might be available by 2014, if it's up to the Dutch airline company KLM. Conveniently one of Holland's colonies, Curacao, was deemed appropriate to launch a rocketship from for anybody who is willing to pay between 70.000 and 100.000 euros. This first version of the space shot is minimal both in duration and distance: you go up just beyond the boundary of Earth's atmosphere, and spend only about 4 minutes up there before spiraling back to earth.

If you are interested in doing it, wait a few years, fly to Curacao and look for the following futuristic building:

In case you are interested but don't have the money, there is always YouTube:

For those who are going to do it, and think this is worth the money, here is a perspective to perhaps take along: you can see your flight as a mission towards a different state of mind, triggered by the direct perception of the cosmos. This is your chance to awaken directly that you are not just a being in a social group, not even a global being; you are a cosmic being - cosmic meaning here that the whole you are part of has no limits whatsoever. Your perception can now come to confirm this by getting you out of your head and fully in tune with what you are perceiving. It can make you see that what you are perceiving right now is the only thing you'll ever need, and the most profound thing available. But with everything you learn in a specific environment, your task is to bring home what you learned and apply it there as well. You learned that there is a state of perception that brings you in tune with the cosmos; but the cosmos is not just out there beyond our atmosphere - it is here as well. Everywhere, although it is easier visible in more complex things such as trees, eyes, clouds, and the ocean, than, say, in your washing machine or desk lamp. The rocketship is the psychedelic technology that will change your mind and your personality towards the ultimate wholeness.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Streetlight trees

This invention is a terrific example of how nature and technology are blending to create a humanized nature that is in ways better and more beautiful than the kind of nature we used to live in.

Taiwanese scientists, in their search for better light sources, have unintendedly created luminescent tree leaves. They implanted gold nanoparticles into the leaves, and after subjecting them to UV light they started emitting a reddish glow. What's more, this glow creates a kind of internal feedback loop in that the leaves' cells will photosynthesize more and thus further reduce carbondioxide in the air.

Unbelievable as it may sound, this might be the streetlight of the future. So if we invest more into researching the possible transformation of natural, seemingly useless things into 'products' with direct economic value, our cities can come to feel a great deal more 'natural.'

Friday, November 12, 2010


Nanotechnology to the common eye seems to be a little veiled in mystery, and to make it visible on a concrete level how this all could work, there is this video of a 'Nanofactory' as imagined by Eric Drexler. It seems almost incredible, but if we could ever manage to create this, it would be about the apex of the modernist dream and we will have almost completely taken control over nature. Watch it here:

I don't think it's impossible in the long term, but I tend to think that the enormous amount of resources that this will suck in building and maintaining it so it stays in tact, as well as controlling all the unforeseen errors that will happen from time to time, make us have to treat this as, and forgive my language, a kind of utopian nano-porn for the extremely wealthy.

The shape-shifting kitchen

Along the lines of Jens Dyvik's sculptable hotelroom is Michael Harboun's equally sculptable 'living' kitchen. He imagines that through nanotechnology we will be able to design into physical structures preprogrammed movement paths, so that with the flick of a finger you could have a faucet, a plate, or a cutting board pop out of any surface in your kitchen. Of course nanotechnology is still mostly in the early 'hype' phase and we are probably decades removed from having anything like this, but at least this way we are exploring the conceptual canvas a little first.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Jens Dyvik's wild concepts

Jens Dyvik is a product-, concept-, and interaction designer from the Netherlands with some very interesting work I'd like to share with you.

First, he has created a movie to reflect on the notion of the 'superstar designer', which can help all creatives from time to time to remind themselves that there is more to work than fulfilling personal ambitions. Watch it on or

In another project he imagines a hotelroom with a floor that is completely sculptable through a gesture-based input device. You enter the hotelroom, and the floor is white and flat. But with a few well-pointed waves of the hand you will have a bed, a partysetting, or even a bowlingalley in no time.

His graduation project at the Design Academy Eindhoven is the current summit of his work, if you ask me. He designed a wearable device that directly feeds back, in a simple but not simplistic way, the emotional state that the wearer is having. It is a quite biological looking bracelet with a head and a tail section that can lift up to show for example your tenseness. This way, the emotion is objectified, which is a very powerful mechanism for the mind. Think, for example, of spit. Yes, saliva. It's always in your mouth, being one with you, you could say. But once you put it 'out there' as an object of spit, say, you put it onto your hand, you suddenly treat it completely differently, and will probably not want to put it back in your mouth again. Also putting your thoughts or emotions 'out there' makes you instantly get into a reflective relationship with them, which can help you bring awareness to yourself so you're not just getting dragged into emotional patterns like a robot.

robots and the creative class

The robots are coming, we can't ignore it any longer. The global robot population has tenfolded the last 6 years to a number of around 9 million. They are becoming more human, we are teaching them to play tricks on us, babies have been shown to make no distinction between them and humans, and we are still using them as weapons in countries like Pakistan, where several people have been killed lately through drone attacks. The time is coming where they are massively entering our own homes as helpers such as vacuum cleaners, grass mowers and pool cleaners. Then, I foresee them to also occupy roles in our social world, and this is where humanoid robots will be excellent training tools as friends that do not form opinions and can guide us with our internal emotional, intellectual, and spiritual processes.

How fast the development of robots will go is an almost unpredictable notion in today's complex world, but an almost universally held projection is that robots will be able to beat the world's best soccer team by 2050. The experts differ widely, for example with Ray Kurzweil thinking that around 2029 machines will explode in intelligence -although he seems to not take into account an embodied notion of intelligence- while iRobot's founder Colin Angle is far more reserved, stating that in 10 years we can't really make all that much progress, and that there are a large number of unforeseen complexities to be dealt with that will make things much slower than we predict.

I tend to be more in line with Colin Angle's view. Things will go slow, but I do think that the embodied, communicative, and spatial intelligence required for the 2050 robot soccer champs goal is realistic. Another milestone we should take into account is that of social intelligence. And with that I simply mean the ability of a robot to push the buttons ingrained inside of us through our herd instinct. The milestone would be reached when a robot can sustain a conversation with somebody in 'fun' mode, that occurs often for example when two people who just met go on a date. This, I think, can also be reached by 2050, if innovation develops in the accelerating pace as it is doing now.

Something that is often not taken into account in these business-like projections though is the psychical development of man. Most people do not think in terms of innovation and creativity. A job is a job for them, and innovation a way to make money. When they come home, they go into their comfort zone with sensory pleasures, distractions, and social rituals. But slowly, we people are expanding our own comfort zone to include our creativity. Creation becomes an inherent part of our sense of self and our existence in the world as we shift our mindsets to a passive, consumerist one to an active, existentalistic, and embodied one. Richard Florida talks about the upsurge of a creative class. And it is this creative class that I think will majorly increase innovation.

Not only do companies more and more 'crowdsource' this creative class for cheap input in the form of ideas and concepts, but also more and more people will start their own project just to keep them busy, and share it with the world in an open-source format. For this, you already need an entrepreneurial and independent spirit, that is beyond the comforts of your family and friends.

Take this guy in the movies below, who hacks Roombas for the sake of it. By simply combining the robo-vacuum cleaner with Nintendo input devices, he creates a middle ground between a fully automized vacuum cleaner, and a cumbersome process that requires you to bend, pull, push, and drag. By dividing the embodiment in two systems he removes the hassle and keeps you engaged in the process. All you need now are some visual and sound augmentations to make it seem as if the Roomba is, say, a turtle collecting seashells that are scattered over the beach, which is really your own house.

Sure, the creative class mainly wants to have freedom of exploration and fun. But this too I think is changing. Maybe in the future it will be willing to take on highly specialized and complex development projects, if given freedom and a little bit of money. I think we are underestimating the upcoming of creative thinking as a natural state of being, and how it will affect the world.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Multitouch 3D modeling

Ok, it's not much, but isn't this heading somewhere? I personally can't wait to have an organic modeler that works through using the designer's entire body as an interface a la Kinect.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Fabbing Piranesi's baroque fantasies

In his life in the 18th century, Giovanni Battista Piranesi was an Italian artist and architect who produced some extremely ornamental designs for furniture and objects that were apparently never made. Now, under supervision of Micchele de Lucchi, these objects have actually been created using ZBrush 3D modeling software, rapid prototyping, and more traditional casting techniques.

Especially the 3D modeling process is exquisite to see, and with that music, it all feels meaningful too. We're truly entering a new renaissance.

The birds are watching you

This project is playing with the Orwellian vision where we are monitored and controlled continuously by authorities, presenting it as a possible future while also mocking it a little bit. Security cameras mounted as the heads on bird statues were positioned all over the city center of Utrecht in the heart of Holland, and people's reactions were being recorded. Of course, by making these cameras so visible it makes you think that you have now officially lost your privacy, but in the end, come on, you knew you had none anyway, and that it's nicer to be open and transparent too. When there is no reason for shame anymore, what do we need to hide?

Structure as ornament

Rapid Prototyping techniques are slowly taking over the design business, with Malgorzata Mozolewska here establishing a chair design that is quite an icon for this age. Where we are used to thinking about 'structure' as massive, clunky elements roughly fabricated together, and about 'ornament' as fine, flimsy, hand-crafted details, here the two ends meet and the ornament becomes the structure. Adolf Loos couldn't have disagreed here. Objects this way become more immaterialized while retaining a meaningful embodiedness, and it has a delicate aesthetic quality to it that is in line with the manufacturing process.

Diminished reality

This is controversial stuff which reminds me of the movie 'They Live'. Researchers have developed a software algorithm that can remove certain objects from a camera feed in real time, after you select those objects. They 'sell' it as the opposite of augmented reality, where we add more stuff to our existing reality. Now, you can make your reality simpler by simply removing objects from your perception.

Obviously this can get a little dangerous, and I can see this being the basis of a new Japanese gameshow, but another pitfall is that when people start using this, they could become so dependent on artificially simplifying their world that they lose all natural, mental abilities to do so. I think though that with an explosion of technologies blending the virtual and the physical, it will all work out organically as long as we stay aware.

The purpose of this blog

To start in a more anecdotal tone; my laptop computer has recently crashed - yes, digital computation is always completely based on the physical too, so never let your ventilation holes clog up - and I lost my newsfeed subscriptions. As I am mainly a second-hand blogger really, simply scanning other blogs and posting interesting finds - while trying to add insightful or at least interesting comments from a reflective perspective, - I rely on these for my input. I resubscribed for some blogs on this new computer, but couldn't find a link to subscribe to one of my favorite realms in the blogosphere: Bruce Sterling's 'Beyond the Beyond'. After going through a month's worth of his posts that I missed, I even more find that this guy has a knack for finding the most powerful and time-relevant things on the planet. It makes me wonder if he has constructed an elite of digital web-crawling minions that do the work for him. But I also immediately realized better now that although the content of this blog is often similar, it does serve a bit of a different purpose and is written for a bit of a different audience, too. I'll talk a little bit about the positioning of my blog here, so you as a reader can decide if this is the place for you at this point.

You shouldn't really create and position any business without also connecting to your heart-core, and so let me say something about life first. First, I think that life with a purpose is nicer than without it. The notion of an absolute truth telling us that there either is or is not a purpose in life is simply a conceptual truth, and to live by such a truth is just one perspective. It's just one state of consciousness, you could say. From such states stem things like science and intellectualism. But beyond reason is intuitive feeling at the core of your being. And that core can teach you that truth is only there after you have created it yourself. For a simple example: before we could establish a truth that says that everything is made of atoms, we had to invent a mechanism that creates truth, we had to invent tools to extend our perception in order to feed this mechanism, and we had to create experimental situations. This way, truth is constructed actively, rather than us 'discovering' it as if it had always been there. From this perspective, we are existentially empowered rather than diminished, and the choice between those two options comes before choosing a truth. As David Hawkins mentioned, saying that there is a conceptual truth is already taking an abstract position in the first place. The choice is ours, here and now. To give a potentially confusing example: before we believe in the truth that says that I exist as a human being, we had to actively tune in to that idea and mindset, and adopt it as truth. With a lack of better things to refer to in our early years, we simply refer to the things that we can feel connected to through our primitive mirror neurons; in most cases the smiling faces of our parents. If they tell us a little later that the truth is that we are human characters, than it apparently must be so. But we had to make the choice to adopt that mindset first. Before arriving at a social truth we had to assume a social position first. In the first years after you are born you don't know that you exist, because you simply exist without thinking about existing. You lived live firsthand, not through the mental filter of a self-concept. The you that you think you are at this moment, did not exist back then. Still you apparently existed, so what were you before you were a 'who', before you were a character? And, ultimately, what about the time before birth, and the time after death? The kind of truth that we live by is determined by the kind of mindstate that we tune in to.

If you have read that last paragraph and think that I'm getting somewhere, I'm making sense, or that at least it's interesting, this blog is for you. It combines mostly the creative side of 'Beyond the Beyond' with the life-part of 'Reality Sandwich.' I do this blog as a one-man thing currently, and feel I must do so because firstly I have been educated as an industrial designer, so I know about the creative and technology industry and want to develop and help guide it. But secondly, I found how the creative mindset can channel us to a more profound and ultimate state of consciousness, and this is what the 'spirituality' side of the blog comes from. As I come into contact with more and more different kinds of people, I am starting to realize how rare my realizations are. I have been feeling, vibrating with if you like, the states of other people's minds, and I'm realizing there really have been only a few. I am finding that probably a lot of people had glimpses of it, such as John Lennon and Leo Tolstoj, but that it is much harder to sustain such a mindstate, especially in everyday life. The ones able to do this were probably people like Jesus of Nazareth, Siddhartha Gautama Buddha, Muhammad, Plotinus, Walt Whitman, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Yogi Bhajan, Mother Theresa, and Yogiraj Gurunath Siddhanath.

I have meditated, pondered, studied and developed ever since I was a child, and on a very early age I have always felt that things around me - objects, plants, rocks, trees, textiles, insects and other animals, etc. - were in constant connection and communication with me, and that this was more interesting than what people were getting me into. I always looked at people as simply part of this all, instead of as separate entities. I could never follow conversations much, because all I heard was 'me, me, me' - fortunately I've learned to listen better :). So I guess a core was always there, and through mind-silencing meditations as well as conceptual meditations, and trying to 'see' people's minds, I have found an ultimate state of consciousness, where you are completely absorbed into the world and all thought, all inner chatter, quiets down completely. I have also learned to access this state of consciousness at will, better and better. This is where you wake up, get back into your body, and simply do what you do without worry, projections of the future, thoughts about people, desires, plans, etc. You are present and aware.

We as people though seem to be wired to be drawn into a world of people, where people are the main focus of our consciousness. We like to meet people, talk to people, and develop good relationships with people. Questions about reality and truth often cease to exist once a satisfactory self-concept is constructed, because there are plenty of distractions in this life to simply keep going in the movie with the character you made, without all too much reflection or awareness of what's really going on. We forget that actually this is a second-person perspective while once we had a first-person perspective, without wanting to go into third-person mode either. It makes you live as the voice in your head. The apex of the voice-in-the-head kind of life is to develop a constellation of verbal concepts that stimulate an intellectual-ish, outrospective, conversational mode of being that unconsciously feeds your self-image and makes you feel good whenever some social resonance occurs. You will not find my writing to give you such a constellation. Rather than keeping you engaged and entertained like a kid, taking your mind out of what your body is doing, I'm pointing you towards the ultimate state of consciousness, because I'd like to share it, and it would be nice if we could establish an entire culture, maybe even geographically co-located, with a foundation of thoughtless awareness beyond the social mindset where we think that we are this human body-thing. A kind of cosmic, 21st century Shangri-La but better, I guess.

I write to people who have an openness to this kind of development, who are willing to gradually embrace the cosmic, all-knowing, all-loving, and immortal personality within them, and start making their creativity that of a god. With our mind and body always as one, we will literally create the cosmos. This is the other side :)

Flux animation


Panta rhei. This animation called 'Flux' is a pure right-brain creation. I mean that as a metaphor, as in, to view this you need to silence the analytical, emotional, and judgmental comments your mind tends to make, and purely develop the intuitive, artistic mind by simply taking it in. Fullscreen it, too.