I'm definitely among those who have been waiting for Minority Report-like gesturing to become a reality. While light beams on desks and walls seems close, it's not our hands manipulating objects in thin air. But now researchers at the University of Bristol have developed the starting point, called MisTable. And they're doing it with mist.
Words will only fail to properly describe the look of this thing, but a tabletop computer system projects images onto a thick blanket of fog. They appear as ghostly apparitions, much like R2D2's projected Princess Leia.
We can interact with the 3D images by sticking our hands into the 'objects' and moving them—maybe to the person sitting next to us. At this time it's simple stuff, but still it means moving something as if it were actually something tangible. Check out the video:
Fire and heavy electronic beats may not be the first things you'd associate with a children's classroom lesson. The team at science/tech blog Veritasium met with a group of "physics and chemistry demonstrators" that combined all three in an audio visualizer they tour around to help demonstrate the shape and intensity of various sound waves. Turns out it's just as cool for adults as it is for the kiddos.
By creating a pyro board of Ruben's Tubes—essentially rows of Bunsen burners (see above)—that moonlights as a sound board, it's easy to see the flames jump as the different soundwaves pass over it.
In Veritasium's video, the first half address how the entire thing works and the second half consists of music and lots of fire (if you're just in it for the flames, make sure to stick around past the first half). Check it out:
When it comes to biomimetic design, one trend is for researchers to borrow ideas from bugs and animals to apply to locomotion. This has yielded some truly freaky free-roaming robots, based on everything from fleas to snakes to centaurs. But industrial automation company Festo is applying one animal's qualities to a robot that will stay right where I want it: Bolted to the floor of a factory.
For two years, Festo's Bionic Learning Network team has been studying the kangaroo, and specifically the way it jumps, in an effort to understand energy recovery. A kangaroo is able to hop across large swaths of the Australian outback at 15 miles per hour in an energy-efficient way, storing energy on the landing that it can re-release for the next jump. The thinking is that if an industrial robot could similarly store and release energy with each stroke, as it swings back and forth on a production line, a significant energy savings could be achieved.
This month the researchers have unveiled their BionicKangaroo as a proof-of-concept. Interestingly enough, it involves what amounts to large rubber bands that are loaded on each stroke by motors in the hips, and the powered tail itself serves as an additional limb by providing both tripod-like support and balance during jumps:
This week in nouveau-Cold War news: MIT researchers will present plans for floating nuclear reactors, adapting existing technologies towards a goal put to rest during the Ford Administration. Floating reactors might sound futuristic—or dystopian—but they're not a new idea, having been proposed first in 1971 by Offshore Power Systems (a joint venture by Westinghouse Corporation and Tenneco). That original plan combined several of the features the new MIT design hopes to capitalize on: mass producibility, increased distance from populations and use of the sea as a buffer against damage.
This new design combines modern oil rig sensibilities with light water nuclear reactors in a package that can be mass produced and towed into position five miles offshore. A crucial benefit of oceanic operation is the protection from tsunami and earthquake damage. Deep water insulates well against both seismic waves and the destructive end of tsunami swells, making it an obvious boon for growing, catastrophe-prone energy markets like Japan.
This kind of mass-produced floating reactor fleet was originally scuttled due to economic instability and raging environmental concerns. The 1979 Three Mile Island accident led to over 300,000 people evacuating their homes, and left the public with a powerfully bad taste for the energy source. Subsequent catastrophic failures and willful breaches of safety (see: Chernobyl, Hanford, Fukushima Daiichi) have perpetuated nuclear power's troubled reputation, but nuclear power development is still on the rise.
It's an increasingly pressing question in this day and age, and one that has certainly seen some interesting responses—including this interdepartmental collaboration from Switzerland design school ECAL—as an evolving dialectic between two closely related design disciplines. Exhibited in Milan's Brera District during the Salone del Mobile last week, "Delirious Home" is comprised of ten projects that explore the relationship between industrial design and interaction design. (Naoto Fukasawa, for one, believes that the former will eventually be subsumed into the latter as our needs converge into fewer objects thanks to technology.)
Both the Media & Interaction Design and the Industrial Design programs at the Lausanne-based school are highly regarded, and the exhibition at villa-turned-gallery Spazio Orso did not disappoint. In short, professors Alain Bellet and Chris Kabel wanted to riff on with the "smart home" concept—the now-banal techno-utopian prospect of frictionless domesticity (à la any number of brand-driven shorts and films). But "Delirious Home" transcends mere parody by injecting a sense of humor and play into the interactions themselves. In their own words:
Technology—or more precisely electronics—is often added to objects in order to let them sense us, automate our tasks or to make us forget them. Unfortunately until now technology has not become a real friend. Technology has become smart but without a sense of humor, let alone quirky unexpected behavior. This lack of humanness became the starting point to imagine a home where reality takes a different turn, where objects behave in an uncanny way. After all; does being smart mean that you have to be predictable? We don't think so! These apparently common objects and furniture pieces have been carefully concocted to change and question our relationship with them and their fellows.
Thanks to the development of easily programmable sensors, affordable embedded computers and mechanical components, designers can take control of a promised land of possibilities. A land that until now was thought to belong to engineers and technicians. With Delirious Home, ECAL students teach us to take control of the latest techniques and appliances we thought controlled us. The students demonstrate their artful mastery of electronics, mechanics and interaction, developing a new kind of esthetic which goes further than just a formal approach.
The ultimate object—still missing in the delirious home—would be an object able to laugh at itself.
Photos courtesy of ECAL / Axel Crettenand & Sylvain Aebischer
One of the most popular wearable medical inventions so far might be the Band-Aid. A flexible strip that heals our cuts and burns and yet never slows us down. Well imagine if the band-aid could diagnose a problem and release therapeutic drugs hidden inside nanoparticles.
This is the new domain of a flexible very thin medical wearable under development by Korean researchers. And it gives a solid glimpse into our personalized medical future, and the future of wearable design.
The idea is that one day—in as little as five years—we'll have diagnostics and medical therapies delivered through devices that are as simple to wear as "a child's temporary tattoo," said Dae-Hyeong Kim, one of the researchers.
Wearable devices today are bulky, cold, obtrusive and impersonal. The future designs, like this proven patch, are intended to be nearly invisible to everyone including the wearer themselves.
Nanoscale membranes embedded into a stretchable, sticky fabric can detect tiny movements, deliver drugs and store all the necessary data. Now, this hasn't been tested on human patients yet, just pig skin. Their results are published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.
The 29-story Cira Centre building in Philadelphia has received a makeover of monstrous proportions for this year's Philly Tech Week. Frank Lee, a professor at Drexel University, designed a building-sized Tetris game. The arcade favorite took over two sides of the structure, of which were in competition to see who could better fit the falling pieces together. Just as in real life, the game was played using joysticks that were integrated to the building's LED lights through 4G. Check out this video to see it in action:
There can't be a more perfect setting for a mystical, digital playland than M.C. Escher's dizzying artwork. Monument Valley an iPad app by ustwo has the player interacting with surreal architecture and solving sculptural puzzles in an attempt to help a damsel in distress—Princess Ida, in this case. (Because what game would be complete without a princess in need?)
While most of our other time-consuming guilty pleasure apps focus more on timed completions than pretty scenery (I'm looking at you, Bejeweled/Fruit Ninja), the scenes found in Monument Valley encourage a bit of dilly-dallying. As one of the designers rightly puts it: "Every screenshot can be printed and hung on a wall." Check out a behind-the-scenes walk-through with the game's designers:
The customer service in Japan is legendary, and the year I spent living there bore that out. As one example, I wandered into a McDonald's during a slow time of day, and the high school kids behind the counter were role-playing: One of them stood on the customer side and pretended to place a difficult and unusual order, while the two behind the counter yelled "hai" and scurried to accommodate his demands. But this train station ticket vending machine is the absolute cake-taker:
The Japanese will often use our English word for service, rendering it "saabisu." But clearly we Westerners ought to be using their word instead.
Pint-sized printers are by no means a new invention, but they're apparently back in vogue. You may remember Little Printer—the ticker-producing content curator—which we covered when our friends at BERG first introduced it. If we were to go as far as to make broad historical comparisons, as we do, the "Cub"—an early 20th century printing pess kit for kids, made by the Chicago-based Superior Marking Equipment Company (SMEC)—is the analog precursor to the Little Printer.
Tiny rubber characters (clearly intended for child-sized fingers) were included with each kit—more characters and images could be purchased, Gillette-style, of course. To create customized prints, users would carefully align the rubber stamps on the rotary with tweezers. While the outcome would put the printer miles ahead of the competition when it came to personalized babysitting or lawn mowing fliers, this was not a toy for the short of patience.
Left: sample copy from a print press kit; right: 1951 Popular Science ad
If you think the miniature press itself is awww-inducing, check out this throwback commercial from SMEC competitor, Ideal:
That the business card is dead, or at least dying, is no secret. At any trade fair I've been to in the past few years, exhibitors would rather scan your badge than stuff their pockets with more paper, and I myself use my smartphone to snap others' contact info and leave their cards behind.
Still, Portland-based technical designer Kevin Bates reckons he's got a business card you'll want to hang onto. Because you can use the darn thing to play Tetris. Observe:
Someone has finally taken note that throughout the day, we use our smartphones in at least two different ways. There's the active way, where you're futzing around with an app and your thumbs are flying across the screen. Then there's the passive way, where you're glancing at it to reference some piece of information you need. And with that latter usage, it would be better if the information was persistently presented, not something you had to call up by doing a home-button-press/swipe/access-code-enter/app-button-press.
Thus Russian tech manufacturer Yota Devices produces the Yota Phone, billed as "The world's first dual-screen, always-on smartphone." While one side has got the familiar color touchscreen we're all familiar with, flip the thing over and there's a black-and-white, EPD electronic-ink-type display that draws no power once its pixels are in place. (The image or text will stay "burned" there even if the phone's battery dies.) In other words you send whatever data you want to that second screen and it stays there, ready for immediate viewing when you pull the phone out of your bag, no button presses necessary. If I owned this phone I'd constantly avail myself of the convenience of having a grocery list, boarding pass, map snippet, reference dimensions, addresses and appointment times, etc.
Termites are not usually known for their construction. However, if you've ever seen a termite settlement that wasn't house-bound, you'll know that they can build elaborate structures, sometimes over 40 feet high. These huge termite castles are built cooperatively, but autonomously and without (researchers at Harvard suppose) any central control. This swarm construction is the basis for the TERMES robot. TERMES robots are given a blueprint and a set of traffic rules, and from there they work to complete their tasks, independent from but in parallel with, the others. Although they work most efficiently as a collective, each can build the project to completion independently.
Don't image search for "Termite." Just don't.
Equipped with ten sensors and three actuators, these cool crawlers respond visually to their environment and make decisions accordingly, without needing external aid or direction. It's a bold move, and one that pans out well when building large blocky, tiered structures. See them in action:
Here, for your edification, is a video of Near Future Laboratory's "Design & Fiction" event in full. On October 24, 2013, IDEO hosted the panel discussion, moderated by Wired's Cliff Kuang, featuring sometime collaborators Julian Bleecker, James Bridle, and our own Nick Foster, who mentioned that "it was nice (and we think important) that we were physically together in a room." Indeed, given the subject matter.
We met to talk about design. And fiction. And the ways of approaching the challenge of all challenges, whatever it may be. We talked about expressing the opportunities those challenges raise as distinctly new tangible forms. As well as the essential value of mundane design. We talked about clarifying the present. We talked about designing the future. And doing both of these things with design. And fiction.
For those of you who can't spare 90 minutes engrossed in a series of presentations about everything from the so-called "Michael Bay Driving Experience" to 1984-worthy surveillant receptacles, here are a few highlights... but of course I recommend watching it in full (or at least absorbing the audio in the background, podcast-style) to, you know, actually hear what these smart and interesting folks have to say.
The big challenge for renewable energy is storage: Energy captured by solar or wind power will never be much good if there isn't a cheap way to store it. Lithium batteries are just not up to a wide-reaching, cost-effective task. So a lot of researchers are working to solve this problem, including a team who founded the startup Aquion, which recently raised $55 million of venture capital funding, including $35 million from Bill Gates.
The funds will help ramp up production of a new kind of battery. Jay Whitacre, a materials science professor at Carnegie Mellon, invented it and says it will as cheap as a lead-acid battery—the oldest rechargeable battery, which is still widely used to restart our cars—but it can last twice as long. It's also very safe—safe enough to eat, apparently. Lead-acid batteries, on the other hand, are toxic and pretty dangerous.
These batteries, charged with renewable energy, can mimic the balancing of supply and demand on a power grid and so can replace the much more expensive natural gas power plants that are currently taking on that job.
In 2011 Nike released the Nike MAGs, based on the design of the kicks Michael J. Fox wore in Back to the Future 2. Supply of the limited-edition sneakers were constrained to boost value, as proceeds were sent to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, netting some $6 million.
While the production MAGs looked like what McFly wore in the movie, they lacked the cool self-lacing feature dreamt up by an imaginative designer (possibly the movie's Costume Designer Joanna Johnston, Production Designer Rick Carter or Art Director Margie Stone McShirley). However, the sneakerhead corner of the blogosphere is currently abuzz with fresh news: Nike designer Tinker Hatfield was quoted at a recent event on whether the MAGs would be re-released for 2015, the year that McFly wore the kicks in the movie. Here's the one sentence of Hatfield's making the rounds:
Forget passwords, your heartbeat can unlock your laptop, phone and even your car. Passwords are considered to be not as secure as some would like for them to be, and are often a total pain to recall, so many companies are trying to cash in on replacing them entirely. Authentication using fingerprints, iris scans, and facial features is the trending field in security. But one company is going deeper into identification and personalization by tapping our heartbeat.
Nymi, created by the Canadian company Bionym, is a wristband that confirms your identity through electrocardiogram (ECG) sensors that map your unique heartbeat. It translates that pattern to authenticate various devices, via Bluetooth, like smartphones and cars.
See their demo video here:
It was in the 1960s that scientists learned that our cardiac cycles are unique because the position, shape and size of each heart is different. (Fun fact that might disrupt Nymi's function: During pregnancy a woman's heart can move four inches.) But the unique pattern means that it can accurately identify you—and according to the CEO of Bionym, Karl Martin, is harder to fake than fingerprints, irises or facial features.
Every once in a blue moon, some piece of 3D software comes along and just makes one wonder "How'd I ever survive without it?" The Foundry's new plug in for MODO, MeshFusion, is what I'd consider to be the most amazing piece of software written in a decade. I know it's a bold statement to make, but for the designer in me, it's brought something to the table that no one else has quite put together so eloquently.
When it comes to 3D software, MODO is an amazing rendering, sculpting and animation design suite, featuring materials systems for renderings that work very much like Photoshop. It also runs native on Mac, PC, and Linux and, if nothing else, fits nicely anywhere into the design pipeline that's asked of it. I wouldn't even know where to begin when it comes to the list of features in Modo but let's start with just a few:
Tool Pipeline: Gives the ability to create your own tools based upon existing ones. No scripting needed, just pick and choose the features need and go. This offers an almost unlimited amount of combinations of functionality. This quick video showcases the capabilities.
Particles and Dynamics: Just scratching the surface on these opens up the possibility to help set up shots for renderings in a whole new way. Think of creating a table; add a flat surface above it and some curves above that. Now add the option for the table to be a Passive Rigid Body, the flat surface to be a Softbody and the curves to be an emitter... now let gravity take over. The flat surface falls and wraps around the table and the particles add rain all calculated in a matter of minutes. Now add textures and you're well on your way to rendering out an outdoor picnic scene.
Fall-offs and Action Centers: Think of the 2D gradient tool in Photoshop... now think of the possibilities of this in 3D. Throw in the ability to add in the Move/Scale/Rotation based upon what's selected and it's a field day for 3D design.
Rendering Booleans and Volumetrics: Creating that "Just in Time" photorealistic shot always requires some extra finessing that usually requires a work around. If nothing else this aspect of Modo just makes the creation of a product shot that much easier. The Render Boolean works by using geometry to cut away from geometry (think about a block of swiss cheese), that can be used in both renderings and animations. Volumetric can be used to add smoke, fog, clouds, in ways that use to take a ton of postproduction work in Photoshop, After Effects...etc.
Here's a few key innovations in the massive and ever-growing video game industry. The blockbuster studios have laid down the hardware, but it's the smaller indie joints that are ditching the TV screen and creating entirely new games out of the already-existing consoles, batons, wands and controllers. Just as Twitter became something beyond what Ev Williams had envisioned, video games are evolving with purposes never imagined by the original designers.
This game makes use of the Nintendo Wii motion controllers and the Wii-U console and has players compete in teams to play various mini-games. For instance in so-called "Rabbit Hunt" one team hides the Wii remote controllers and then the other team tries to find them, in only one minute, while the controllers emit random sniffing rabbit sounds. So the room itself becomes the set for the game. It's a great example of how a hack of hardware can become a new game in ways the original developers never intended.
This game uses the new and powerful virtual-reality headset created by Oculus Rift (see video below of the Oculus Rift creator's 90-year old grandmother playing with the VR headset). Inspired by Hitchcock's Rear Window, it's a detective game in which the player spies on occupants of a building from our wheel-chair (head movement is all you can do), knowing a murder will take place at 10pm. We then need to piece together answers by catching key details. What a refreshing change from the bloody war and killing rampant in most vid games.
I'm impressed by a shipyard's ability to dry-dock a cruise ship. I'm also impressed by limousine manufacturers being able to cut, stretch and weld a Town Car.
It never occurred to me that these two pieces of manufacturing prowess could be combined, but several years ago, Hamburg-based shipyard Blohm + Voss—who've been plying their trade since 1877—received a commission to "stretch" a cruise liner. Watch and be amazed as they transform the Norwegian Crown into the Balmoral, the latter ship being 90 feet longer than the former:
Produced in collaboration with the Designers Accord in 2011, our Sustainability in 7 video series has aged quite well, if we say so ourselves. Perhaps the best example is Janine Benyus's short primer on biomimicry, in which the biologist, innovation consultant and author explains how the natural world can inspire and inform design.
Whether or not he's seen the video, Jeabyun Yeon definitely gets it: His Triton Oxygen Respirator concept was clearly inspired by fish. Just think of all the things we could accomplish if we somehow could sprout gills and swim great lengths without worrying about breathing?
We obtain many things from ocean. It becomes a great vacation spot and provides us with many resources. However, many difficulties are involved in using them, among which the most fundamental difficulty is breathing. To use skin scuba equipment, we must learn very complicated procedures. In addition, there are people that cannot enjoy them from being afraid to breathe under water. I've come up with a future product that can solve these difficulties.
"This One Weird Trick" and "[Number] [Superlative] You Must See!" notwithstanding, "Technology Is Making Us [negative attribute]er" is among those sign-of-the-times headlines that reliably attracts fingertips and the eyeballs connected to them, and it remains an ever-relevant (and at times evergreen) topic du siècle. (Here's where I recommend Luke O'Neil's recent polemic on this disturbing trend in clickbaiting before diving right in.) Even as the pendulum—more a katamari than a wrecking ball—continues to swing between the poles of pro- and anti-technology, so too have new developments in mobile, the Internet of Things and overarching privacy concerns added a proverbial Z-axis to the playing field.
Professor Keith Hampton of Rutgers is, by the New York Times' account, "neither a reactionary about technology, innately skeptical of the new, nor a utopian, eager to trumpet every invention as revolutionary. He is instead a sanguine optimist—a position he says is backed up by his research." Along with a cadre of grad students, he's spent the past several years working on what might be described as a shot-for-shot remake of an urban investigation from nearly half a century prior. Hampton is revisiting William Whyte's seminal Street Life Project, in which he filmed public spaces in a first-of-its-kind study of urban planning by observing user behavior.
Thus, he's taking up the cause—gathering empirical data in the interest of a more human-centric approach to urbanism—with a specific focus on mobile technology. As its title suggests, the Magazine feature—a worthwhile read for design researchers and city-dwellers alike—presents Hampton's finding that "Technology Is Not Driving Us Apart After All."
Fellow armchair sociologists who are pressed for time at the moment—I, too, have feeds to scroll through and e-mails to delete—might be interested in a brief post by Columbia's Tim Wu, his first contribution to the New Yorker's tech blog. He proposes, in so many words, a kind of Turing test for a time traveller as a means of determining whether technology is making us smarter or dumber. He concludes that "how you answer the question of whether we are getting smarter depends on how you classify 'we'"—whether you regard technology as an extension of the mind or as an external factor of purely incidental import.
Yet the most fascinating thing that Hampton found (spoiler alert, sort of) is the fact that more women are out and about in these spaces in New York, Boston and Philadelphia. "Who would've thought that, in America, 30 years ago, women were not in public the same way they are now? We don't think about that."
Palette buttons can be re-arranged and customized by the user.
As any artist, designer or technologist will tell you, we rely on a wide variety of software in our day to day lives, from the Adobe Creative Suite to some sort of office bundle, as well as music and movie editing software. Each of these programs has custom controls on the software side, but on the hardware side we have the same set of tools: a keyboard and a mouse.
And while the multiple buttons of a keyboard are endlessly adaptable, that same sort of logic doesn't apply in other interactive environments. Think, for instance, about the vast difference between driving a car and riding a motorcycle, or playing a video game on Playstation vs. operating a remote control for a television. Although the input devices and mechanisms share some obvious, similarities, the hardware experience varies substantially.
Which is why I was excited to learn about Palette, a "freeform controller" made of movable, interchangeable parts. Starting with the building blocks of buttons, dials and sliders, Palette allows users to create custom controllers based on how they want to interact with the computer.
The minimal aesthetic belies the original inspiration behind Palette. "Looking back at old transistor radios and war era type machines," noted CEO Calvin Chu, who observed that these devices were "really robust." "Why not make a way that even with all these different use cases, we could abstract these elements and rearrange them in different ways, just like Lego blocks?"
A jellyfish-inspired drone might not garner as much media buzz as the Amazon Delivery Drones or make an Hollywood entrance like the Star Trek promotion featuring a batch of "Hummingbird" drones, but its design is noteworthy for other reasons.
According to a story on National Geographic, researchers at New York University have created a drone design that mimics the movements of a jellyfish in action (click through to view the unembeddable video of the design in flight). Applied Mathematician Leif Ristroph was looking to create a device inspired by insect wings, but ran into a few issues with the idea:
Insects have built-in sensors and feedback that help them stay upright. Drones based on insect wings need the same support. But motors, sensors and batteries add weight, which becomes problematic for people looking to design smaller and smaller drones. I wanted to design something that had stability without the stability-sensor needs.
If you've got the bucks, an HD projector is a cool alternative to a television. It's about as unobtrusive as it gets, turning any white wall into a screen larger than the biggest LED or plasma screen you can buy. But installing a projector is a pain—I helped a buddy hook one up, and mounting it to the ceiling required us making a custom plate for it, then dragging the ladder back and forth to find the perfect spot for it, not to mention drilling into a stamped-tin ceiling. Then came the PITA of getting cables to the thing and having to drill supports for the cables along their length. And once it's up and running, if you find you need to make physical adjustments to the thing or de-dust it after a period of months, well, time to break out the ladder again.
The number of things that can be 3D printed is overwhelming—from casts, interactive toys and auto shift knobs, the options are mostly useful and sometimes just plain fun. Meanwhile, researchers continue to develop and experiment with new materials, from flexible plastics to meat to titanium. Now, a group of students at the University of Maribor in Slovenia have created printGREEN, a 3D garden printer.
The apparatus prints objects out of a mud-like grass mixture; anything from artwork to pots. Created from a modified CNC machine, the process features an instrument that's much like a cake decorating tool that helps produce clean lines and shapes. The magical grass producing mixture is pretty expected: soil, water and seeds.
See the machine at work in this logo-inspired test run: