drawing sound

One of the more interesting effects of the merger between the digital and physical worlds is our ability to “read’ or “interpret” various mediums into completely different forms and to do so with simplicity and elegance.

A perfect example of this is the Colour Chaser, by Yuri Suzuki. While originally conceived in 2010, it recently was expanded to become an interactive sensor, sound and robotic installation called Looks Like Music for the Mudam, or Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean.




Here, as you can see, visitors can draw their own paths of color to engage the robot and, in essence, create a musical march for the robot. The simplicity of the approach, the straightforwardness of the interactive outcomes, and the possible creativity all make this incredibly attractive. It incorporates and engages science and art simultaneously.

Here is an example of something we might seek to embed in more technological exhibits in our field -

the idea of not trying to burden every exhibit with the full story but rather to create more exhibits that break the digital/physical interplay into bite-sized chunks…. discrete experiential chunks that can “sing” through a simpler design.

Where have you seen examples like this? How do you imagine using techniques like this to expand the possibilities?





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Drone Experiences

An emerging technology that feels like it has the potential to offer some interesting experiences for specific installations is the drone. One example of the capabilities of these devices is this home movie of Niagara Falls created by a drone owner.





Some opportunities we in the museum field might explore with drones include giving visitors access to places they can’t physically explore and providing rare or inaccessible viewpoints. Just last week, while we were in the Pacific Northwest, the Woodland Park Zoo staff (avid readers of this blog) sent us an invitation to discuss their philosophy and approach to interpretation. The Zoo has award-winning experiences within large natural environments that mix species as they would be mixed in their natural ecosystems. The downside of this approach is that, at times, the animals are far away from the visitors.  One of the ideas we brainstormed involved drones: Imagine letting visitors fly a drone out to find animals and observe them from a distance.

In addition to their function as remote viewers, drones also offer interesting insights into robotics, and they can provide excellent maker/tinkering opportunities. They offer a way for mobile device and their cameras to be used. Finally, they also provide a timely, relevant, and accessible experience through which to spark discussions about societal issues of technology, privacy, and information access.

Drones seem to be a ripe technology and medium for experience prototyping and designs.

We would love to hear your ideas about how drones might be used. Share your thoughts here.

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the coming interactive surface revolution

With its capacity to detect a user’s movements, the Microsoft Kinect system stands ready to change how the museum and themed entertainment field might consider where an interactive experience occurs and what the interactive medium might be. As shown recently here in our blog over two months ago, water can serve as an interface location. In fact, recently this same story again surfaced across the web – for example here and here.

Certainly, the next step is developing more sophisticated augmented reality experiences based on this ability. While the water example shows some rudimentary possibilities, an application (came out last year) that certainly could have potential impacts – educationally and otherwise – is shown here. In this one sand is sand to as our medium and simulate water and water flow.


A further refined version is being worked on or is finished through the work Oliver Kreylos of UC, Davis, the Tahoe Environmental Research Center (at UC, Davis), and the Lawrence Hall of Science (at UC, Berkeley) for ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center in Burlington, Vermont. Here is video of that piece.



Thinking back on past projects where we wanted to create a physical interactive six or seven years ago about watersheds and drainage, had this been around, we might have jumped on it.

But this technology, along with things such as our posting two weeks ago on motion tracking systems and cameras/projection, means that as we think about exhibitions, there is a vast opportunity to add an additional digital dimension if necessary. This applies even to some our most tried-and-true interactive examples.

Take a gravity well. When we will see the first one where, as the ball travels down the well, the acceleration figures, the projected path, or force vectors are projected on the surface of the gravity well itself?  How about projection on an erosion table? The list of possibilities is endless. Additionally, all of this digital information can be saved, taken home, shared on personal devices, and distributed through the cloud. We are just beginning to explore how this could change the ways physical interactives can link together with our lives outside of the walls of a museum.

But there are dangers, and at times we don’t want this extra layer.  It might detract from the innate beauty, simplicity, or emotional and learning impacts of the physical interactive.

The key will be figuring out when to add this ability and when to leave the physical reality of a phenomenon alone.

We here at the studio can already imagine the debates and conversations that will erupt as we move forward with these evolving abilities. Those are going to be some good conversations around the conference bar! Meanwhile until then we remain on the lookout for new examples. Do you know of any? What do you think of the coming revolution?

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Follow the Ball

In previous posts we mentioned how changing one’s viewpoint can offer new opportunities for experiences in an exhibition. A new technology just crossed our desks here at the studio, and we think it’s pretty amazing.

Here is the Dynamic Target Tracking Camera System.



This is work being done by the  University of Tokyo at the Ishikawa Oku Lab

The way the tracking systems follows a moving object has sparked our thoughts about how such a system might be applied to a wide variety of science center experiences. It would be interesting, for example, to combine this system with a gravity well and observe the arrival of the hole rather that the ball. Also, one could launch several balls into a well and track each independently by projecting a unique number on each. We could advance that even further by projecting the speed of the ball directly on the ball itself as it accelerates toward the hole.

A similar concept could be used in a Rhodes Ball Machine – but one in which you get to project your face on a ball as it moves through the machine. That’s just one way to personalize this type of experience. Of course, this technology could be used for many sports exhibits, too – like following a pitcher’s curve ball or tracking a golf ball trajectory.

Let your imagination run wild. How else might this be applied in the museum field?

What about outside the museum field? How could you imagine using this technology in other ways?

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The Tapioca Interface – Physical and digital – part deux

Recently we blogged about the merging of the physical and digital worlds and how this phenomenon offers some very engaging and potentially stronger ways for exhibitions to use digital media to create more impactful experiences. Under the tag physical and digital, you can check out several blog entries that present some unique approaches to this physical/digital convergence.


This week, we came across a new example of this design approach. Take a look at DIRTI for the iPad, created by Userstudio.



The testing pictured happend at La Maison des Petits. Using translucent material (including ice cream if you watch the second video!) and a simple web cam along with Raspberry Pi, you can create an effect that’s determined by your movements and changes in the material’s density and transparency.

This is a simple but elegant example of how a physical medium can be used to create and direct a physical link to a digital world.

Certainly, the key aspect of this experience is what the physical manipulation of the material actually corresponds to in the digital realm.

That said, this points to yet another example of elevating the impact of information and experience on a digital screen by closely correlating the interface and the medium.

While ice cream or tapioca may make for a creative music and color experience, here water (or maybe slime!) or some other substance might allow for an entirely different experience.

What ingredients would you want to use?

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Real Time Experiences

Some ideas reappear over and over again in exhibition design. One recurring theme is the idea of displaying information or events in real time. Instances we’ve discussed in the past include aircraft in the sky, internet traffic, cars on the NJ turnpike, and many other element of modern life. Now, it’s even possible to track some of these on your cell phone.

This week we wanted to point out a couple of examples we’ve recently run across that might interest anyone trying to provide visitors an understanding of how we are using communication technology today.

The first is a piece call Pirate Cinema, produced by Nicolas Maigret and Brendan Howell.



In this piece, viewers are treated to a cinematic montage of media segments being shared in peer-to-peer networks through BitTorrent. It provides a real-time sneak peek at an activity taking place throughout and across the world that is fundamentally changing many industries and even changing societies as a whole.

The second examples is the website Tweetping by Franck Ernewein.



Check it out!

Here, one can watch the world of Twitter just wash by across the planet. It can be mesmerizing to see subjects and topics sweep across the globe. These experiences seem to capture a live display of the state of the planet, and they share some important points that might be relevant to exhibition planning and design:

First, they are real. Here are digital media experiences showing real phenomena or technology. They are about real data.

One could argue, too, that these show real phenomena in the same way that, say, a pendulum exhibit demonstrates an actual physics phenomenon.

The second important point is that these experiences makes the hidden, the unseen visible in a dynamic way – and, in these cases, in ways that allow us to look back at ourselves.

Exhibits that explore the hidden parts of being human are always fascinating.

What new ideas do these examples spark for you?

One interesting idea might be to have an exhibition where all of the experiences provide a similar kind of living pulse of our planet.

What would you want to see in such an exhibition?


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Physical and the digital – inspiration while in Europe at the ECSITE 13 conference

So, a thread that, here at the studio, we believe is ripe for an explosion of innovation in both design and experience is

how we bring together the physical and digital worlds.

Many of our former blogs postings focus on this interplay. Since many of us who are part of the studio have science, design or engineering degrees, it makes some sense that we’d be intrigued by connections between the physical and the digital and how those connections might apply to a variety of future projects. Here are two new examples:

The first is Murmur created by Chevalvert2RoqsPolygraphik and Splank.






What is interesting here is the physical connection between the visitor’s sound and the representation on the screen. The literalness and physicality of this connection create a strong response between the experience and the digital display. Additionally, visitors manipulate a digital display of information via a physical interface that is not one of the expected devices normally used (screen, mouse, keyboard, knob etc.).


This week’s second inspiration piece is the projection on the Museum of Art and History in Geneva created by Onionlab. This production is called Evolució


While projecting on a building is not new, what this projection does is actually use the surface, the museum, as the star of the show. The physical world makes the projection “sing.” Too often in exhibition design attention is paid only to the digital content being projected. Perhaps, instead, we should start from the other way around:

“Here we have a special physical object. How could a projection added to it create something new and transformative?”

What do you think? Where have you seen interesting interplay between the physical and digital worlds?


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Mobile Interactivity

Museum and science centers continue to explore and experiment with how to incorporate mobile devices into their experiences. One motivation is the incredible capacity of today’s modern smart phones – devices more powerful than the first computers put on a museum floor.

However, the field’s experimentation has focused primarily on the device as separate from the experiences in the exhibition environment. The devise is an add-on to the experience itself.

What if the only way to interact with an exhibit was with a mobile device?

Here at the studio we are fascinated with several experiences that were on display at the “ALSO” exhibition. “ALSO” was an exhibition created by first year students of the School of VISUAL ARTS’ MFA Products of Design program.

The first experience that caught our eye was the one named LIFT





































Here, you put your phone system in a hoist that lifts it high above the exhibit floor and then back down – capturing video the whole time. The visitor thus gets their own “bird’s eye” view of the exhibition, with this experience offering a different perspective and creating personal memories for each visitor.


The second intriguing experience was TINY.





















Here, a portable video magnifier was attached to an iPad, thus allowing visitors to explore the micro-world around them. Imagine offering a magnifier that visitors can attach to their tablet and use to explore an entire museum!

The third was WARP





















Here, visitors could use their mobile device’s camera to record an image from a two-sided kaleidoscope. This exhibit points to the idea of embedding video or image opportunities directly into an experience.

Each of these shows a different creative approach to incorporating mobile devices into museum environments.

Rather than depend on an app, look to make the phone an integral part of the exhibit “structure,” an integral part of the main experience.

The importance of structure and the message it portrays was also evident in another exhibit included, called BOOM.



















Here, using a boom microphone, you dramatically get the stories of objects. This experience harkens back to the sound bottles we discussed in an earlier post and the idea of physical metaphor.

We salute the great ideas these students presented. We look forward to seeing more!



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digital water

So, a few days ago, we posted the new interface/augmented reality project by Fujitsu Laboratories. This offers some interesting ideas for integrating augmented reality into museum exhibition environments. Now we have a new one to take a look at.

Here is another new digital interface that offers more fascinating ways to interact with digital information. AquaTop turns a pool of water into an interactive, three-dimensional digital interface surface.


AquaTop is a projection system that uses something like bath salts to create a white water screen surface. (Most likely, other substances could work as well.) The other components include a sensor system (in this case, Kinect), a projector, lighting control, and interactive programming. The system won the Grand Prize at Laval Virtual this year.

There is something intuitive and pleasing about the physicality of water and the common digital “touch” interface. Makes one wonder what other actions we might develop if we projected on water more often.

One particularly fascinating thing about AquaTop is that it directly and visually demonstrates multiple points of interface – for example, by showing visible markers when someone touches the surface with multiple fingers – from under the surface! We’re also intrigued about using other sensor systems and how we might manipulate things like waves or other physical water phenomena. We can also imagine some truly creative and fun ways to incorporate this technology into a water play area or other water related exhibit.

AquaTop has some similar attirbutes to the posting we had about 3d projections. You can check out that earlier post here. 

What ideas do you have? We’d love to hear what you’re imagining.

A shout-out to Louise Julie Bertrand who pointed us to this project – thank you.

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A little fun!

So, every once in a while we run across an interactive that just delights and makes us say “What a fun time.” Here is one that was on display last year in Brooklyn that was too much fun.  You might have seen it. Check out Wildbytes’ “Super Heroes” piece.

One point to think about that makes this much better than any other “blue screen” experience is the immense scale of the activity.  As mentioned in previous posts, scale is often overlooked in our field’s approach to tabletop, individual or small group exhibition design.

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