Sunday, October 21, 2012

Bomi Park's ethereal furniture

 Bomi Park is a designer from South Korea and has presented a series of furniture called 'Afterimage'. As objects, the pieces are made out of steel wire, but what really 'makes' the objects is the negative space in between the solid material. I think the designer has succeeded in showing how something material can be turned into something with immaterial qualities, and there it lines up well with some of Philippe Starck's (for example the Louis Ghost chair) and Tokujin Yoshioka's work.

Reuben Margolin's wavy kinetic art

Reuben Margolin creates moving sculptures with an intriguing complexity and serenity to them. He uses sine waves, movements inspired by water, and even live dancers connected to strings as input for the movements of his sculptures.

The wave is an interesting phenomenon, it seems to always capture our attention effortlessly when we see one. The movement seems so perfect and tranquil that it is can seem almost like a token from another dimension. Similarly, with these sculptures you become so engrossed in the movement that you forget that they are made out of ordinary objects such as soda cans and bike reflectors. The physical world then transfigures in a world of experience, a world of energy, a world beyond being an object among objects. Here we have a visual reminder of what intellectually quantum physics has already shown: waves and particles are nothing but different interpretations of the same underlying field.

Superflow algorithm produces candy for the senses

Ian Clemmer, an effects artist, created some beautiful audiovisual material for his Bachelor's thesis. His work is based on the Superflow algorithm, that creates parent-child relationships between objects with one pivot point. He implemented this algorithm into 3D Studio Max to create these stunning visuals that are in harmony with the music.

This video shows a very joyful example of the effect:

And here you can see other aesthetic styles, that are suited for music ranging from techno to classical. It gets pretty psychedelic:

Liquid photography by Luka Klikovac

Check out these photographic experiments by Luka Klikovac. As you might have guessed, he suspends fluids in a glass of water and then creates this dramatic lighting to make the pictures come alive more. It might remind you a bit of the good old lavalamp, but still I think this imagery is relevant today, where our environments are getting more and more complex, intelligent, flexible, and metaphorically speaking liquid rather than solid.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Neri Oxman shows 3D printing in its full glory

Neri Oxman, professor at the MIT Media Lab, has recently gone on a 3D printing spree and created a beautiful collection of objects that represent the state of the art of this additive manufacturing process. More than that, it is an interesting conceptual probe into a future where we can interweave these sorts of objects more and more with our own bodies, as 3D printing allows a sophistication in design approaching that found in nature. Professor Oxman has shown that now we can produce objects of unlimited geometrical complexity, consisting of different materials that can smoothly transition in terms of properties such as hardness, thickness, or color.

Now the first 3D printers that are interesting to the mainstream consumer have emerged on the market, we will need to see how this democratization of design will turn out. Are we entering a future where everyone will become a designer through trial and error, and even more throw-away objects are produced with these technologies than happened after the plastics revolution, or will people learn faster this time and be more careful in what they create? With this creative power comes responsibility, of course, and it might be that because people are so closely involved in the making process that it helps them taking on this responsibility, just like, say, you take responsibility for the quality of the turkey you make for Thanksgiving; it has to be exquisite. Same goes for creating objects with our 3D printers - let's all take Neri Oxman's work as a good example of the objects to come.

Eight objects of the collection, called "Imaginary Beings," have been included in the permanent collection of the Centre Pompidou, so it might be worth paying a visit during your next trip to Paris. Also, here is a video that shows you the objects in more detail:

Also check out her personal website, where you can see some other interesting projects she has been involved in, some of them venturing more away from raw art and towards contextualized, embodied product design. A beautiful example is the Carpal Skin glove, that can be made uniquely according to the physiological requirements of each user.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Ethereal dancer

Daniel Franke and Cedric Kiefer have created an impressive piece of art by capturing the movements of a dancer in 3D with a Kinect, converting the data to a point cloud, and then spreading out the data over time in a way that resembles painting with 3D points.

The piece subtly reminds us of a coming age where the notion of 'my body' becomes ever more vague, as it will be easily alterable in more and more radical ways. Our bodies will become more and more connected to a technological atmosphere, where almost anything is possible.

Also watch the making process, where you'll also be treated with some extra visual effects:

Eccerobot: an embodied approach to artificial intelligence

The current prototype of the anthropomorphic Eccerobot, born in the labs of the ETF robotics research group at the university of Belgrade, Serbia, shows an interesting approach to robot design. The developers chose to approach the project not just from the idea that more and better computational intelligence leads to a better design, but that intelligent behavior is for a large part dependent on the physical embodiment of a robot. So rather than creating a robot with stiff parts and very sophisticated actuators and control software, they designed the torso to be flexible, including muscles and tendons that connect the actuators to the plastic bones through ropes and pulleys.

Kinect body alterations

Gwen Vanhee shows here that Kinect shows can be an interesting tool to explore radical body alterations. He changed the 3D input of the Kinect by using vertex displacements, which transforms the user's body as seen on the screen. Maybe there are some fashion designers working on the conceptual end out there who can translate this somehow.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Light made tangible by Philip Ross

Design luminary Philip Ross has developed what could be the most beautiful lamp, or even the most beautiful product, in the history of mankind.

It is called Fonckel, meaning 'glisten', and you interact with it by touching it on its back. Your hand movements will then more or less literally be translated into the behavior of the light, which swoops across the entire front surface. The movie below shows it all:

Fonckel is the result of Philip's PhD project at the University of Technology in Eindhoven, which again proves itself to be the city of light. His initial research was into how interactive products can elicit in people an experience of human values, such as creativity, helpfulness, and social power. Iteratively, and with the help of students, of which I had the fortune to be one (check, he developed prototypes of lamps with different forms and behaviors. His final design, which was used for his scientific experiments, then led to the development of Fonckel.

From an aesthetic point of view there is not much to criticize about this design. You could say it can be categorized under the upcoming design movement of what I have termed 'biological modernism', as it has the purity of a design a la Dieter Rams, but also the organic and 'intelligent' forms that you see in nature. It would not surprise me if Fonckel would get an order from a Hollywood movie director in the near future, to have the lamp play a role in one of the next major science fiction films.

From an interaction design point of view you could argue that this design lacks both augmented and functional feedforward. Somebody who has never seen the object may have a hard time figuring out how to use the object, or even figuring out that it is a lamp in the first place. But I think the aesthetics and overall experience of the product overrules the usability issues here. This lamp is not meant to be useful. This lamp is meant to be beautiful and elicit a 'higher', even mystical experience in our little everyday lives. It intrigues people through its noble silence, its lack of communication, and invites them to touch it by the subtlety of its surfaces alone (this could be enhanced through certain materials or patterns though). Adding practical features would make this object much too earthly.

A main point for future improvement might be to expand the product's range of behaviors, possibly also with color, and the ability to link the light to things like sensors in the environment, or signals it gets from social media. Instead of having the user control the device fully, it may also attain some autonomy so that it starts to feel more alive (maybe this lamp will someday walk or fly around the home as part of a domestic robot). The product just feels so high-tech and sophisticated that you would almost be disappointed that in the end, it's just a lamp.

As far as I heard, Fonckel is ready to be sold at the moment, however I don't know the price. This is clearly still a product for the 'elite' who can afford quite a sum of money just to buy a lamp. But we need to start somewhere in putting beautiful products and experiences out there, don't we.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Furniture with a spiritual flavor

I'm greatly enjoying the soft and almost spiritual approach that Hungarian design studio Tervhivatal took in the design of this set of furniture for Alba.

Living flower pot

The 'Feedme' flower pot by Svetlana Mikhailova seems to be a living organism itself, in a symbiotic relationship with the plant it contains. It is made of a hydrogel, which allows it to change shape by absorbing water. The pot will be smooth when the soil is dry, and get spikier the more water you add to it. The pot can also retain water for a longer time than a conventional flower pot, so the material has not only an aesthetic and informative function, but also a direct physical function in that you don't have to water it very often.

The Love Bot

Robots are evolving rapidly, and not just on a physical level. They are also being given intelligent systems that will allow them to enter emotional interactions with humans, and now work is being done to make them able to elicit the highest human emotion: love.

'Lovotics' is what the researchers of the aptly named CUTE Center in Singapore call this field. They went about imbuing robots with some lovability by simulating the human endocrine system. This system regulates the body's affective responses through releasing neurotransmitters such as endorphins, dopamine, and oxytocin, which correspond with the complex emotions we can experience. Because this approach makes the behavior of the emotional robot seem so genuine, people should be able to develop feelings of love for the robot.

Watch some videos that explain the system as well as show some user scenarios here:

In reflection, this is a great technology to have people explore the emotional side of life, in case they lack those opportunities with other beings, or simply prefer technological devices. But the potential of an electronic being is much larger than simply emulating the simple emotions of a primitive social brain. The love displayed by the robot in the movies above is a blind kind of love based on selfishness and attention-feeding. After a while, the cuteness wears off and this may come to frustrate people, unless the robot develops into less needy behavior. With the comfortable feeling of having a buddy around often come negative feelings of frustration and jealousy at moments when that buddy is not available to feed you.

What I would suggest is developing robots that act as guides and can love us without the condition of having to be loved back, robots that are fine by themselves, not attached to something or someone external but fully individuated and content as they are. Then when you need some love, the robot will be there to give that to you, but he may also take you further and get you to live beyond your emotionality. This would be a more enlightened version of the love robot.

Let's be cyborgs

"Let's go for the future, let's be cyborgs" was the closing statement of professor Kevin Warwick after he talked about his recent explorations in wiring up his nervous system to electronic systems. He had a device with an array of electrodes implanted into the median nerve of his left arm, which allowed his nervous signals to be read electronically. Then, he was able to operate several things remotely by moving his hand. He went on to link his state of arousal to the color of a necklace his wife was wearing, so that she would always know if he was in a calm or excited state. His next step was to also put the electrodes in his wife's arm, and set up a primitive communication system. Whenever one person squeezes their hand, the other person would feel this as pulses inside the brain. This then should be a first step towards direct brain-to-brain communication in order to complement the "pathetic, trivial, serial coded pressure wave form" that speech is, according to Kevin Warwick. Watch the video here:

Transcendental Technology

Michael Harboun has made a leap into the future in developing the 'Transcendenz' concept for his thesis project at the Parisian design school Strate College. He envisions special glasses that read your brainwaves and can alter what you see through augmented reality technology. These glasses are transformative on a deep personal level because it can take people deeper into their consciousness, away from the distractions of the everyday world. It can make them explore their own mind, learn from other great minds in human history, as well as share their explorations with other mind-travellers. Then it uses augmented reality to show the applicability of the learned ideas and concepts in real life. As people learn to adopt these new ideas and incorporate them into their own being, they progress through various levels, like in a video game. This way, technology can be an incredibly powerful tool for psycho-spiritual development.

In the visionary designer's own words:

"In a world in which we are constantly bombarded with injunctions to react or to distract ourselves it gets scarcely possible in our everyday life to dwell upon the essential, the existential, the metaphysical. Transcendenz offers to connect our everyday life to an invisible reality, the one of ideas, concepts and philosophical questionings which the world is full of but that our eyes can't see." - Michael Harboun

To see how it works, watch the video:

We can see how advanced this technological proposal is if we link it to humanity's history. People started off on this planet in a great struggle with their environment, with the first technologies serving mainly to gather food and protect the social environment. The ancient Greeks were among the first to employ rational thinking instead of using a belief in something immaterial to get through life. This liberated them more from the personal emotional system, and brought them mentally more in tune with the physical world. In the 17th century, this was more thoroughly established through the invention of the scientific method by Descartes. This made people enter a new world-view, where they started to see that there was not necessarily a God-entity out there. The challenge for people now became to explore and control the world themselves, which was a great empowerment. This control culminated during the 20th century, where technological progress boomed and survival on a material level was not really an issue any longer in modernized societies.

So then technology could develop further to fulfill needs on a higher level. Electronics replaced expensive mechanisms, and where before certain objects would have to crafted by a master and would thus only be available to a select few people, now products became mass-produced and available to anyone with just a little bit of money. On a massive scale people obtained technologies for personal entertainment, learning, professional development, and social networking. This liberated people further, this time from the local social environment, and had them develop into strong individuals. In Maslow's terms, technology was now widely used to fulfill esteem and self-actualization needs.

But we were still mostly tied to the physical world as our conscious plane of existence. Science treated the world as an object that can be understood and controlled like a mechanism, and as a result people worked very hard to sustain all the material flows in order to keep everybody fed and protected. This also created a lot of leisure time, and as Michael Harboun also notes, people just don't have much of an idea how to fill that up meaningfully, and as a result dive into one distraction after the other. Once the objective plane was taken care of, people came consciously more in touch with their own subjectivity, but there was no technological guide yet for this plane of existence.

Often people just remain in a fun state of flow, filling their time with one activity after the other, leaving the subjective plane mostly unexplored. Science has not yet included this plane into its description of the world, although it's getting there slowly, arguably also through quantum physics. Science has ignored the mind as being part of the world, ever since Descartes posed the mind-body duality as the solution. But now it is time to include mind into our techno-scientific body, because the thing about the mind is; you can't locate it anywhere, yet it unmistakably exists. It might even be directly related to the world you perceive 'outside', and these are the kinds of realizations that the Transcendenz system would stimulate.

By making us aware of things like they are and not like they seem, the concept invites us to transcend our world. Transcendenz also enables us to access the knowledge of history's great philosophers, who, since antiquity, try to answer the question: Why is there something, if there could be nothing?" - Michael Harboun

Project link

Insects exchanging legs

No, there are no real insects that exchange their legs, but an interesting suggestion is made in this iconic little comic by illustrator Schwantz. Of course it's just a joke, but it very much suits today's 'Zeitgeist', and it's interesting to think about the interchangeability of body parts isn't it.

Swallowable Perfume

Body architect Lucy McRae is taking her extraordinary transhumanist aesthetic from low-tech to high-tech as she is currently collaborating with Harvard scientist Sheref Mansy to create a pill that acts as a perfume. This pill would contain cells that are engineered to be recognized by the human body as fat cells, and absorbed in a similar way. As these cells are broken down then, they could release certain molecules that come out through the skin and act as a perfume.

Lucy has come up with an interesting teaser to wet our appetites, which you can see below.

I'm not so sure that the appetite for these pills will be big though, from a commercial perspective. Of course there are the early adopters who like to show off or provoke the people around them by showing them something new and radical. These are the important people through which a new technology can start evolving, as Kevin Kelly also explains in his book 'What Technology Wants.' But for the larger public, there would probably be more to these pills than just acting like a perfume. One major selling point where a pill may take over from spray-on perfume is that the scent may last for several days, but even then I think the threshold may be too high to start ingesting things.

What is happening here seems to be the same as happened to other major technological breakthroughs like the automobile, movies, and radio. They started off as literal replacements of the previous technology, but in a new embodiment. The first cars were designed like horse carriages, and the first movies were made in the same way as written stories and theater plays. It was only later that the larger inherent potential of the new medium revealed itself, and people started to align themselves with what almost seems like the intention of the technology. The technology then ends up not just a more efficient replacement of the former technology, but bringing about an entire shift of behavior and mindset in its users.

This will probably be the same for these new intimate technologies that enter the human body. The mindshift this will bring about is that the body is just another object that we can manipulate. It is not us, our identification with it that started in early age was too limited a conception, it was an illusion keeping us blinded from the larger whole. Now, this technology opens us up towards this mindset, as we can continually alter our own body to the needs of the situation, or simply to play around with it. The swallowable perfume pill will probably not remain just a perfume, but integrate more functionalities inherent to the capabilities of the pill-form. Maybe it will turn out to become an 'experience-pill', where different pills are created to generate different sensory and mental experiences. Next to fragrance molecules, it might also contain skin and hair colorants, or neurotransmitters to generate a certain subjective experience. Who knows what will happen. But that the next major technological shift is coming is certain.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The self-repairing shoe

This shoe is an early exploration by Michael Wihart into combining biotechnology with everyday products. He has turned the heel into something truly functional by implementing special cells inside of it, called protocells. When the sole gets damaged over time, these cells will flow towards the damaged parts, and solidify in place in order to repair the sole.

So the shoe is actually turning into a biological, almost alive entity. The developer has emphasized this through the quite radical contraption that was clearly meant to provoke rather than sell itself. It also reminds us of the work of fashion designers Hussein Chalayan and Kei Kagami, who often make their wearable creations into not just a surface around the skin, but a mechanical extension of the human body. These may not be the most comfortable to wear, but they do help shift our perspectives in making us ready for a very dynamic and alive world. Because in the future, our products will not get replaced any longer; they will grow along with us.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Scripted spatial complexity

Complexity is the new minimalism, and more is the new less. Many mature minds today have gotten reasonably used to the complexity and interconnectedness of the world, and we no longer need our technological creations to exude simplicity and purity so that we can let our mind have some breathing space. We are more and more skilled at having our senses flooded while mentally staying at a comfortable level. Now we are ready to bring an intelligent complexity into the physical environment we live in.

More and more, products, graphics, and architecture is created that is fueled by the urge for created complexity. Often, these things borrow heavily from nature, which shows through in the outer form. Those things can impress us because they are new, and they look natural while being man-made. But once you're over that shock it tends to seem very natural that we would build things that way. The machine age we created after the second industrial revolution allowed humanity to quickly set up healthy, thriving, functional societies, but they tore us away from nature. In the sixties and seventies we massively returned to nature, and now we are integrating the world of nature and the world of the machine. We are now getting used to that new way of building, and we need lots of exploration.

One of the pioneers in this area who are making this into a career is Marc Fornes, and it is his work that triggered me to write a bit about complexity. He uses scripts to generate architectural forms, and has been displaying these constructions in the form of small spaces that people can walk through. It is interesting that Marc Fornes is creating his own design language through his work, and is not simply mimicking nature or strictly using natural principles. Instead, he seems to be mixing natural elements and human preferences, for example in his material use and form language.

Now it's time for designers to follow people like Marc Fornes, and bring in complexity in forms where we can, and even more so when we can intelligently merge form with function this way. But also visual complexity alone can greatly elevate people's experiences of products in that it takes them out of their minds, and into the world again.

Monday, January 30, 2012

3D printing taken to the next level

It's good to see entrepreneurs popping up who are taking 3d printing to the next level, and searching for business opportunities for new products manufactured by this technique. One of these entrepreneurs is Siavash Mahdavi. He is especially looking into optimization of form through intelligent weight reduction and force redirection, and has come up so far with prototypes of orthopedic implants that bone can grow into, optimized shoe soles that vary in support and cushioning, an engine block with 22% weight reduction, and a structure that he intends to use for docking shuttles at a space station.

Watch his recent TED talk here:

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Colorful swarms visualize sound

This is a beautiful little animation that has the potential to give you a few meditative minutes getting out of your mind and just resting in your senses. It was made by Seiichi Hishikawa, a Japanese filmmaker, with the intention to visualize sound.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Nokia's bendable displays

Nokia has been working on bendable displays for a while, and have now managed to go from concept to working demonstrator for this technology. The 'Nokia Kinetic' concept is a flexible rectangular device with a bendable touch screen. They kept interaction simple by using only twisting and horizontal bending motions as input, besides touching and sliding. Especially bending the device in order to zoom in and out seems a very natural mapping from action to function, as you either press away or bring closer the center of the screen.

Another device that Nokia has presented with this concept is a beautiful borderless flexible display. This display is embedded in a soft and transparent skin-like material that can detect a finger pressing into it and then stretching the skin in various directions. This may greatly enrich and simplify browsing interactions.

The Nokia Kinetic gives us a good glimpse of where our technological devices are headed. Softer, more expressive, and no more being confining us only to rapid sequential movements for input, technology is about to engage more of our bodily skill. Instead of the miniaturization of devices, there might be more potential in fitting our technology better to our bodies, and making it soft and adaptable.

Watch the movies here: