Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Spirit of Dutch Design

Here are some highlights from the always delighting Dutch Design Week for this year.

Many projects revolved around 'green' design thinking, and in general you could see a development towards introducing natural elements into our living spaces.

Philips Design took this philosophy to the next level in their new future probe 'The Microbial Home'. This home would minimize energy usage through biological processes. In their vision, methane gas can be gathered from human and vegetable waste, and biogas can be produced from other organic substances. Food should be kept alive and fresh inside the home by having it grow around structures attached to furniture. Bioluminescent bacteria provide moodlight, and waste is converted into edible mushrooms through special fungi that can digest plastics. Philips' proposal makes the living room look a bit like a science lab, but I think it's a good start towards true green living, on the physical plane.

The highlight of this design probe on an aesthetic level may well be the Urban beehive. It is basically a honey vending machine that incorporates the actual living bees. The bees enter the hive at one side of the device, and out comes the honey on the other side. Behind a transparent shell are several softly illuminated disks that the bees can use to build their hive, while being watched in admiration by their human customers.

Jeanine Kierkels, a master student Industrial Design at the university of Eindhoven, has taken the soothing aesthetics of natural growth and implemented this in a very specific human context: giving birth. She envisions an animation of a tree branch on the wall of the room where somebody would be giving birth. This animation is coupled to the occurance and length in time of each contraction, which makes the process interactive and personalized. In the end, the tree branch beautifully visualizes the event as a story to take home.

Another student created this lovely and intriguing accessoire. Embedded into it is a system that senses its wearer's physiological arousal. This value is then translated into the movement of scales on the sleeve, more or less like enhanced goosebumps. By externalizing our underlying physiology this way, then, people are invited to connect to each other on a deeper and more intimate level.

Floris Wubben directly translates the aesthetics of natural form into his designs by blending state-of-the-art technology with natural elements. This gives his products a very alive character.

We see a playful wink towards unification with nature in the work 'Digital Portraits.' One item is a shirt that incorporates the head of a wolf into the three-dimensional structure of its fabric.

Some interesting new ideas have also sparked up at the Design Academy. Within the theme of finding new ways to mass-manufacture objects, one student had an intriguing idea to blend human craftsmanship with the crude approach of the machine. He envisioned the human craftsman as being directly guided by a machine, for example through tools that are attached to robotic arms. This would enormously speed up manual work, while retaining a unique human touch. This may be a pioneering project into a future of cyborg production processes.

The supreme highlight of the Dutch design week is an art installation that is genius in its technical simplicity, and stunning in effect. It completely transcends the paradigm of our existence and our technology as material, it has the potential to bring about a peak experience that brings us beyond a perspectival existence of having one point of view, and approaches a unification with the cosmos (yes!). It is called Plane Scape, and is installed in the 5MM (five minutes museum). Watch the video here or go experience the installation yourself. And stay more than five minutes to let it work its way into your system and open your doors of perception.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Hylozoic ground

Architect/artist Philip Beesley, in collaboration with Rob Gorbet and Rachel Armstrong, has created a new installation based on a previous one called 'hylozoic soil.' Like that one, this one invites people into a living, breathing space, that responds to its visitors. This invites people to get out of their individuality for a while, merge with the space, and release into the aliveness of the present moment.

3D capture of bird flight

It's the sculpture-equivalent of Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2, this sculptural work by Geoffrey Mann. He used long-exposure photography to capture a bird's landing. Then he traced the contours of this bird and used them to sweep a three-dimensional form through. This gave rise to the beautiful shapes you see in these pictures. It would be interesting to also do such studies for the air around the bird, so we get a more embodied insight -complementing the scientific and conceptual- into how air really behaves when manipulated by organic shapes, and how these shapes have evolved for this manipulation.

Scripted products by Lionel Dean

Of course it's nothing new that rapid prototyping techniques are giving rise to wildly innovative three-dimensional shapes. It's also nothing new that these techniques are still quite slow and very expensive, so still not interesting enough for design for the masses. It is still interesting though to see what kind of form repertoires different designers are coming up with, within this radically enlarged scope of potential. Some designers keep it minimal and functionalistic, some try to create more elegant, abstract versions of nature, some develop a more edgy and sharp style, and others go a bit more extreme and create very organic, chaotic and often alien-looking shapes.

Lionel Dean, founder of the company FutureFactories, belongs to the latter category. He develops objects that seem to be taken directly out of the jungle of Pandora, that extraterrestrial realm in Avatar. His work is closer to bio-fantasy than biomimicry, as he seems to emphasize artistic freedom more so than functional constriction. A quite innovative aspect of his products is that he uses scripting to generate the forms, while only providing a fixed 'meta-design' to the computer. The designer here, as a blend of man and machine, creates completely unique products.

Solar leafs to charge electric vehicles

In an assignment for Nissan, architecture firm su11 has envisioned a modular, future-oriented system for charging electric vehicles. The system consists of several 'E-VINE stations' that have a central unit to charge and reprogram the electric vehicle, with leafs above it to capture solar energy. These leafs are envisioned to be separate modules that can link up, so that the amount of leafs at a station can be adjusted according to the local energy needs. This is important, according to su11, because the transition from gasoline-based fuel to the fully electric vehicle is likely to proceed gradually. The system, like a vine then, can grow over time towards a fully electric and 'green' future.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Kinect blends dance with on-the-fly sound manipulation

Watch this guy flowing with his Kinect, manipulating virtual objects and all. It is turning into a whole-body engaging musical instrument!

Apparently it was built with OSC, Serato scratch live, Quartz Composer and an adapted version of the 'Typlex' macro for Kinect.

Robotic balls that drive the cats nuts

A Boulder, CO based company called Orbotix claims to have developed the world's first robotic ball, and it's going to hit the shelves soon. It can be controlled by Apple and Android smartphones, and is meant to be a mixed reality gaming product. Think of playing pong on the floor of your living room, office golf without a club, or just chasing the cats around.

Of course this is just a fun little gadget for the gadget geeks among us. But I can see this going somewhere, towards more impactful innovations. We have the spherical robot going, what else can we do with it? Maybe we will develop it into a new means of transportation, a replacement for the single-axis wheel, or perhaps a complete multifunctional and intelligent home robot/pet. We live in times of great innovation, the world is getting linked, the world is starting to move.

Some projection mapping eye candy

For projection mapping, you need the guys from Drive Productions. This is definitely one of those technologies that I can see making the world all the more intriguing and psychedelic pretty soon. Before we all start to wear augmented reality goggles, of course.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Organic aesthetics of movement

Yury Dovganyuk calls himself a 'motion designer', and part of his work is to capture organic, beautiful movements into either static or dynamic products. I wanted to briefly share his original and experimental work with you.

The image you see on top is a concept for a cup that seems like it's about to do a pirouette. Maybe it will soon be possible to produce this one in ceramic through a rapid manufacturing technique.

The following is a table concept that is organic in a way that makes the object seem interesting from all angles and elicit a great spatial experience.

My personal favorite in terms of aesthetics is a clock concept that augments the kinetics of the clock hands through rods that slide in and out of the clock and follow the hands. Moving all the rods with individual motors would make this an utterly expensive and energy consuming product. I wonder if it can work through powerful magnets integrated into a ring around the clock, and an ingenious way to reduce friction and sounds. Maybe Yuri can take this one a little further, and have a clock manufacturer pick it up. Watch the clock in action in the movie below.