HOW CAN WE COMMUNICATE IN A DIMENSION WE COULD NOT COMMUNICATE IN BEFORE?
3dMEDIA is a research project, which attempts to give another perspective to the unconventional relation between our three-dimensional world and the two-dimensional nature of digital communications. The project aims at developing a potential medium, which provides both sender and receiver with an equal experience and stimulates more of our senses shaping our environment in a way that approaches more our physical and tangible world.
The present project constitutes Konstantinos Mouzakis' MA thesis in Communication Design at Central Saint Martins, London. The development of the project lasted about a year in order to be presented in public in June 2013. You can find a pdf version of the research paper here.
Photos from Digital Futures, an open studio showcase presenting groundbreaking new work at Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Photos from Central Saint Martins - MA Communication Design Degree Show 2013
The initial intentions of the project were to bridge the gap between the physical and the digital social networks. However, the Laws of Media stated by Marshall McLuhan, led the research to explore the actual nature of communication through digital mediums.
Through this process, research identified the unconventional relationship between our three dimensional world and the nature of digital communications which is still restrained in two dimension. As we move on, technological developments enable the sender to communicate a message in a more natural way. However, the receiver is still restricted in two dimensions. In addition, virtual worlds have been created inside the servers of the web. Such systems of communication make us question if we are gradually abandoning our real world for the sake of the virtual one we have built.
What we really need is a medium that radically changes the way we communicate through distance. Potentially if we develop a new medium that can provide both sender and receiver with an equal experience, then more of our senses would be stimulated. Therefore, we will be able to experience a more physical and almost tangible way of communication through distance.
The idea of the project is to develop a medium that approaches more the physical and tangible world of our senses. First thoughts were triggered by the pin art toy, an old and mechanical medium that if being hacked, it could provide us with amazing possibilities. The concept is to split the context of the device into an input and an output and then by interacting with something in one place, a piece of space to instantly respond in another place. This development urges a great diversity of potential mediums to be invented. Pushing the idea further, a sensor that captures human motion can feed with data a three-dimensional fluid wall of rods. These rods will be the actual representation of the pixels of a screen that gain the ability to expand to the third dimension.
The concept can result in various outcomes applied to exhibition spaces, public space interactive installations, advertising billboards and communication mediums. Input and output can be equally flexible to fit application's context, replacing for instance the rods with water (eg. water fountain), or replacing the gestures with human movement (eg. traffic) or flow of specific data (eg. stocks).
In order to define the final outcome, some experiments had to be conducted. These experiments gave research the opportunity not only to apply theory in practice but also to test the users' engagement, the effectiveness of materials and the technology required to finally build such a medium, following the process of reverse engineering. The sample of users that took part weren't aware of the nature and the aim of the project and they didn't get any kind of instructions either. During the experiments, the time needed for the users to start operating a device along with the time spent playing with it was measured. Also, responses while interacting were logged and everyone was briefly interviewed.
As a first test, a device was designed where 8 motors were lifting some wooden pins according to the position of a wireless mouse, creating something like an dynamic wave. While enthusiasm and engagement were direct and profound, it soon became clear that it was triggered by the fact that users perceived the device as a robot in operation rather than a three-dimensional display. In other words they were focusing more on the lower and technical part rather that the upper part (output) of the device.
The second experiment focused only on the output. In order for the users to focus on the three dimensional output, a really strong element had to be introduced. Thus, the wooden pins were replaced with acrylic rods and then the element of light was added. This change proved to be very effective as it kept users focused on the output and helped them experience the whole procedure in more depth.
The third experiment focused on the input. At this stage, a 3d scanner that could capture volume and motion in high precision was used. Then, an interface was created where people could see themselves on a screen illustrated by tiny white dots. In the scanning area in front of the sensor, a small cube visible only through the interface was defined. Whenever something was entering the interaction area, its white points were converted to green. Despite the fact that engagement was direct, users were trying to define the interaction area before interacting with it and the obvious presence of the scanner was distracting enough.
Taking into account the knowledge from the previous experiments, the last test linked the previous elements together. In order to define the interaction area of the input, the element of air was added, produced by a small fan. Defining the area of space just by recirculating an element that already existed there, did not obstruct the natural human motion. Moreover, users perceived the air as the scanning medium and therefore they were pushed to focus on the interaction with it.
As a conclusion from the previous tests and research, the basic principles of the developing medium were defined.
Regarding the context, a really strong element or a theme should be used, both on input and output in order to maintain the focus of users in the process of communication. Moreover, all mechanical and electronic parts of the device should be hidden in order not to distract or impress the users. Finally, the materials used must directly transmit a physical sense, when someone touches the device in order to further stimulate the emotional factor.
Regarding the content, the new medium is an actual extension of reach of the human body. Its function is not only inspired from the pin art toy but also from a great diversity of other mediums, such as a pixel screen. Its purpose is not to replace the direct human communication but attempt to change the way we perceive digital communications through distance. This is an example that proves technology can be used to shape our environment in a way that approaches more the physical and tangible world of our senses.
Since the budget required to build a wall of rods is enormous, the first complete attempt of the new medium was accomplished in a smaller scale. After solving numerous of programming and technical issues, the final outcome consists of an 8x8 grid of lighted acrylic rods. The device projects any volume and motion scanned by the input source in three dimensions and in real time. Its structure hides all the technology inside and allows only the rods and the light to escape. Moreover, it can be placed in any position and orientation, according to the specific circumstances.
For the needs of the degree show, a specific setup was designed as an input. A device similar to the output houses the 3D scanner and some fans. Air is transmitted to the interaction area through small slots, each time something enters the space. The input device should be clearly separated from the output, by a noticeable distance or an obstacle, in order for the 'communication through distance' to be showcased.
A potential next step of the evolution of this medium can be suggested as a merge of the input and the output into one part. Then, by having two devices that the one reflects the other, users could experience a Skype-like communication but in a more physical way. Obviously, the development of such a device requires even more sophisticated technology as well as a great budget. However, the present research acknowledges that such a further step raises too many questions to be investigated that hopefully will push the medium to the unknown.
Photos taken during the stressful procedure of developing the final device