Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Running robot

Ryuma Niiyama has developed a prototype for a robot that displays almost human-like athletic abilities. It's physiology is based on the elasticity of combining rigid bones with flexible tendon-like elements and air muscles as actuators. The result is a crude but already convincing early version of a robot that can run like a human.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Transformable train seats

Frequent train travelers will know that the demand of chairs varies highly on the time of day. Here's a concept that pictures train seats being available to be pulled out of the ceiling of the train. The seating is cleverly designed to be flat when packed up, and to bulge out into the shape of a seat when pulled down. I think this is a good idea, but I do think it will lead to situations where it will be socially unacceptable to pull down a seat for yourself when it's very crowded. Maybe this could be implementable as the cheapest and least comfortable way of travelling, but I'm afraid railway companies will not want to make things any cheaper.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Ball shaped vacuum cleaner

This is a ball shaped vacuum cleaner. As it rolls autonomously across the floor, it sucks up dirt through the various small holes in its biologically looking outer shell. For cleaning, the ball can be opened by splitting it in half.

Of course, a ball shape would maybe not be the optimal shape for a vacuum cleaner, since it can't reach a lot of places, unlike a Roomba that is designed to simply perform its function as optimally as possible. Here we end up venturing into the realm of debating the 'form follows function' paradigm. My answer is always that function is an ambiguous term, and that we need to expand the definition if we are still thinking in terms of merely objective aspects like materials and energy. We are undergoing a shift towards including the subjective experience and its influence on our consciousness of a product, and this should be incorporated under 'function' as well. The quality of a product should be measured by how much it makes us happy on the long term.

But back to the vacuum cleaner.

Does a Roomba really make us happy? Sure it does the job pretty well - though I don't have one myself - but other than that it's a pretty 'inhuman' looking device. It scares babies and pets with its unnatural movements, so many people dress it up like a frog or a beetle or what not. A sphere, however less suited for the one particular task, is more friendly and inviting. If well designed, you could create an interaction where the device can act completely autonomously, but also is available for interaction with humans, who might want to roll it across the floor, or play games with it. And as a side-effect of this process the floor will get cleaned as well. This way products can become social actors and really connect to our human consciousness, other than taking up the social role of a slave, hiding in the background of our attention.

Expanding our thinking to go beyond engineering objectivism and optimizing the efficiency of a product for one task through analytical thinking can be done by complementing it with human, social, holistic thinking. A technology-based world where everything is clean and efficient does not mean anything to the holistic mind. It will still seek pleasure, emotional development, insights into the self, and development of consciousness. If products hide in the background merely doing tasks, people will only have people to connect to on this plane. And I think technologies such as playful vacuum cleaners can play an enormous role here too.