Saturday, April 23, 2011

Shape-shifting kitchen tools

By now we all know that shape-shifting can be a very powerful aspect of technology. Since we witnessed the T-1000 change his hands from knives into hooks into pins, we all unconsciously knew that one day, we could have forks that can change into spoons or into scissors. And after a dream finds root into our psyche, the real work begins, which requires us to selflessly devote our mind-processes to the manifestation of that dream.

Many creatives around the world have become fascinated by products that can morph, with one of the new minds in the game being a guy from Eindhoven, the Netherlands with a good name for a designer, Jeffrey Braun. He has posted a video that shows an initial vision towards shape-changing kitchenware. In the video, you will see him varying his movements and gripping positions in order to morph his incredible tool towards the desired shape.

Of course, this video is just a video and only a small step away from the T-1000 towards actual, marketable products. If his aim was to show us something magical, I think he has succeeded. We must not remain sentimentally engulfed in a dream for too long though. I always love to see a designer step up and create a concept that actually has potential to hit the markets within a certain timeframe. It is through the largely social filter of the marketplace that true innovation occurs, after all.

I would actually be interested myself in seeing if we can develop something. Many things need to be critically thought out to see which concepts can survive. For one, magic has its limits. It can draw attention and evoke interest to buy a product, but a product will also have to match and support the actual ecology of use, including the physical, socio-economic, cognitive, and emotional environment. For one, I think that a clear mental model has to be available. Magic can be interesting, but it actual use not being at one with our products but having them do unpredictable, magical things, can be dangerous and induce uneasiness, even fear when using the product. True magic would occur when technology would be able to perfectly decipher the intention of someone in real-time. But in general, we humans have not even generated this ability yet, as this requires an intense felt oneness with the other.

Another approach is to make symbolic couplings from a consciously implemented human action to a consciously implemented technological action, as Jeffrey has shown in his movie. But the value of this is limited by how much we can and are willing to load our cognition. Then there is the issue of confusing an actual functional action in use for having a symbolic meaning for the product, so that it accidentally triggers a function. And the last major issue is that symbolic couplings disembody us from our ecological embeddedness. We lose track of what we are embodied in when we are acting as a result of a symbolic trigger. For example, you don't want to have to stab a knife backwards four times to make it turn into a fork. I can see the symbolic approach working for only a few actions per product, as both cognitive load and accident rate are minimized. If we have to go through the interaction design paradigms that human-computer-interfaces have gone through also for everyday physical tools, things might get a little chaotic.

I see most value in direct embodied couplings, say, when the amount you squeeze the handle of the knife determines the length of its blade, and the pressure you give with your thumb the width. These couplings are intuitive, do not necessarily require sophisticated AI, and have the human being actually become more embodied because it requires him or her to develop more physical control skills. There is a great shift starting towards embodied interaction, and I think that also for shape-changing products we should follow along with it.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Humanoid flowers

One simple flower can tell you everything you need, if only you learn to open up to it and see it in its fullness. A media-saturated life has us forget about the actual sense data that the symbols we are served stand for, and the flower being one of the earliest symbols we learn in those elementary educational kid's cartoons, it has long been forgotten in a mind-dominated life of thoughts and desires. Yet it is a return to what seems to be a not very interesting backdrop of life, that can open up our senses again and show us things that thoughts can never grasp.

Probably this was not the line of thought of photographer Cecelia Webber when she created these wonderful images, but they do show us an interesting outlook on nature. She has made a start in trying to show how the processes of nature underlie everything we see, and how all form is interconnected and ultimately generated by our own mind. Some might mainly see her creations as flowers, others as collections of painted human beings, yet others see a humanization of nature. As ambiguity in sense data increases towards Rorschach-like proportions, our own state of consciousness will more and more come to determine what we actually see.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Kinetic building skin

The Kinetower by Kinetura is probably one of the best present-day examples of the potential of moving architecture. It has a dynamic building facade that is composed of a pattern of movable elements. These can respond to the needs of the moment by curling up and down, thus either closing or opening the building up.

It seems that the idea of a dynamic skin is one of the first aspects of technology that has it move towards a truly interconnected, physically intelligent, almost biological state. We are seeing the living skin more in architecture, such as in the Geotube by Faulders Studio, and it is also trickling down into automotive design, with the BMW Gina and subtly with the Renault Dezir, as well as into product design such as in the works of Karim Rashid and Ross Lovegrove. I think we can only celebrate this, immerse ourselves into the aesthetics of it, as well as incorporate it into our own creative processes where possible.

Robot beggar

"Please pay me, so I can replicate!"

In addition to the slave, the caretaker, the friend, the guru, and the entertainer, a new social role for the robot has emerged: the beggar. Now you don't have to make people empathize through showing your own suffering, but you simply put an adorable robot there to work people's cuteness-sensing neurons, and do the work for you. Then again, you probably would be better off by just selling that thing.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Algorithms create complex columns

It looks as if these structures have been grown, not by humans, not even by nature, but by some entirely new kind of intelligence. However mostly ornamentation, it is clear that it is not just that but also a look into a future where the still quite crude mass-production methods of today will be replaced by machine processes that can produce almost infinitely complex and individualized pieces. The ancient-Greek-degrading creations you see here have been generated through computer algorithms and have been created out of thousands of laser-cut cardboard sheets.

From a purely visual point of view, the complexity in these columns remains so consistent and coherent that there seems to be an infinite variety while all parts within this variety are exactly in the right place. The form must be so fascinating because to really grasp it we have to manage to get into a state of pure perception, where the mind does not conceptualize forms as individual things located in space. The columns here can almost serve a psychedelic function by connecting us so viscerally that we can step beyond mind-processes. I await the day where, next to our microwave, we will all have our home-based fabbing station, and we start replacing today's sense-skipping objects by things like Hansmeyer's columns.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Bionic bird

You can't say that the people at Festo are very creative, but their creations are nevertheless astonishing for the technical accomplishment and techno-spiritual, light feel to their work. Here it is for the first time that we see an artificial bird that at first glance is pretty much indistinguishable from a real flying bird. Festo has accomplished this through an extremely efficient motion of the wings, that can rotate at different angles.

Be ready for a future in which we make our own animals.