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.