USB Gadgets Extraordinaire

April 26, 2009 - Leave a Response

With the countless variations and mulitiples designs of USB devices out there, UFO/Tape-dispensers/rubber chickens(?!), you’ve probably seen it all – there’s even that monstrosity that is the mouse made from an actual stuffed mouse, you should dispel any notions you might have of that being potentially cute, the poor little guy just looks sad and creepy – but moving on, the trend in technology today is desktop convergence. As more and more devices become available in USB-powered versions you will then need more and more USB ports and hubs. The more USB devices you can hook up on your desk, all the better – so they tell us.

This is advertised as being a useful gadget as it will keep your coffee/tea cup warm as well as give you a clock and some extra USB ports to plug other junk into. Now when I saw this, I thought wow that’s just brilliant, then my brain engaged and I remembered that placing any container of liquid near my laptop has always had consequences. This taught me two things – my laptop is impressively resilient, and to stop leaving drinks beside it. However if you like living dangerously in the broader sense of the term, then this is for you. Advertised as…

“Very handy in an office situation because you know as soon as you make yourself a piping hot beverage, your boss or a client is going to call you and keep you distracted for the next 25 minutes for something that could have been handled with a simple 10 second email, all the while your drink is getting cold.”

Well it’s better than the mouse-mouse…

Crimes against Nature.

Crimes against Nature.

And yes, it does exist…

I know what I want for Christmas.

I know what I want for Christmas.


TED Talks | Pattie Maes

April 26, 2009 - Leave a Response

Students at the MIT Media Lab, with particular credit given to Pranav Mistry, have developed a wearable computing system that allows them to treat any surface as an interactive display screen. The wearer can access internet data and various tools at their will, and enter and exit out of them as they wish.

Pattie Maes of the lab’s Fluid Interfaces group said the research is aimed at creating a new digital “sixth sense” for humans. Maes’ goal with this project is “to harness computers to feed us information in an organic fashion, like our existing senses“.

The prototype was built from an ordinary webcam and a battery-powered 3M projector, with an attached mirror — all connected to an internet-enabled mobile phone. The setup, which costs less than $350, allows the user to project information from the phone onto any surface — walls, the body of another person or even your hand.

In the video Maes shows during the TED talk, we see her student Pranav Mistry who she describes “as the brains behind the project“, wearing the device around his neck, and in order for the camera to be able to detect his fingers, he wears colored Magic Marker caps on four fingers consisting of red, blue, green and yellow. This is necessary to enable the camera to distinguish the four fingers and recognize his hand gestures with software that Mistry created.

The practicalities of such a device are vast, and the potential to be phenomenally useful for everyday situations, take for example when Mistry demonstrates picking up a boarding pass while he’s sitting in a car, and then being able to project the current status of his flight, the gate number, and whether any changes or delays have occurred, all retrieved from the flight-status page of the airline onto the card. Granted in its current form, and which Maes readily admits, it’s somewhat on the bulky side and highly conspicuous, but that’s merely a matter of further aesthetic design and development.

Others examples of its capabilities include Mistry using his right finger to draw a circle on his left wrist, prompting the face of a watch to appear. If he wants to read e-mail on his phone, he draws an @ symbol in the air with his finger. He can project a phone pad onto his palm and dial a number without removing the phone from his pocket.

The gestures can be as simple as using his fingers and thumbs to create a picture frame that tells the camera to snap a photo, which is saved to his mobile phone. When he gets back to an office, he projects the images onto a wall and begins to size them.

Maes and her MIT group, which includes seven graduate students, were thinking about how a person could be more integrated into the world around them and access information without having to do something like take out a phone. “We wanted to make information more useful to people in real time with minimal effort in a way that doesn’t require any behavior changes”.

April 26, 2009 - Leave a Response

EnBW Spam Recycler claims to recycle your spam emails into individual works of art. Letters, words and images from your spam are used to create “new virtual graphics, small personal pieces of art that you can print out or use as a desktop background“.

What you do:
1. Send your spam mail to:
2. Only send individual spam mails. Lots of them.
3. Please remove all personal data from you mails.

What they do:
4. They send you a link, which allows you to watch as your spam mail is recycled.

So I sent off two spam emails to test it out, the written content of my spam message slowly appeared on the screen and was gradually warped, and over a few minutes the images progressed into what reminded very much of spirograph. Whether it relies on your actual spam content all that much – mine seemed to shrink and disappear into a mass of squiggles fairly quickly – is up for debate, but it’s the idea of it that appeals to me most. The images can manipulated by controls allowing you to change the main colour of the background and there are also two slider bars that seem to alter how angular or circular the gradually drawn lines are. And if you pause your drawing before it gets too manic, you’ll have yourself a nice desktop image at the very least.

Recycling part 1

Recycling part 2

Recycling part 3

Recycling done

Visit to find out more about the patron, EnBW, Germany’s third largest energy company, and “an initiator of new ideas and technologies“.

Delicate Boundaries | Christine Sugrue

April 26, 2009 - Leave a Response

Delicate Boundaries is an interactive installation where human touch can give the impression of moving beyond the “barrier” of the computer screen. Bug-like digital animations appear to swarm out of the screen onto the hand when it makes contact with a computer screen “creating an imaginative world where our bodies are a landscape for digital life to explore”.

The system explores the subtle boundaries that exist between foreign systems and what it might mean to cross them.

The experience is created using a combination of several devices – a digital projector, video camera and infrared lighting – with custom software. The digital projector is mounted over the installation space to achieve the projection onto the body.

A black-and-white video camera and infrared illuminator are aligned with the projector to perform the vision tracking. “The software then brings together the video image from the camera, the projection space, and the computer screen, allowing me to connect the projected image with the camera feed.

The live video image from the camera is processed to find different structural and motion information about the audience and how they are connected to both the screen and to each other. The bugs are animated algorithmically using physics to create the behaviors, motion and interaction with the tracked video image. All of the software was written in C++ using openFrameworks, an open source programming library developed by Zachary Lieberman and Theo Watson.”


Philips Interactive OLED Lighting

April 25, 2009 - Leave a Response

Netherlands-based Royal Phillips Electronics introduced the world’s first interactive OLED (Organic Light-Emitting Diodes) lighting concepts for professional and home use. These new designs respond to the users “intuitive cues” in the form of hand motions, but are also touch and motion (the proximity of the user in relation to the light) activated. The illumination provided by the Desk Lamp displayed below can be altered by the user by the movement of their hand up and down to increase or decrease the amount of light, without them having to physically touch it.

“Our concepts demonstrate a new light ambiance, novel design possibilities and unique interactivity of light and human gesture.”

Philips is also unveiling an OLED installation for professional segments in large public spaces such as reception areas. Philips describes this installation as being “both functional and highly experiential, featuring a luminescent wall that reacts directly to passers-by, creating mirrored reflections of their ‘shadows’ amid the light.

Philips invites people to “play” with this new technology and experience it as much more than a light only: a softly glowing mirror, an interactive tool, a very aesthetic light source and an inspiration for further products and applications.

A demonstration of this OLED installation can be seen here in the last video. It provides an excellent demonstration of users interacting with the ‘mirror-like’ lighting installation.

Metal Sculptures | Andrew Chase

April 25, 2009 - Leave a Response

To continue the trend of focusing on designers and artists, i’d like to give you a brief overview of the inspirational work of Andrew Chase. A renowned name in the world of nature-inspired artwork, his mechanical giraffe is made from transmission parts, electrical conduit and plumbing pipe. Connected with a complex mesh of gears and levers, the giraffe is designed to look and work in a realistic manner. All the joints rotate and lock into any specific position.

These metal sculptures beyond the everyday imagination, are the result of the work of Andrew Chase. The ability to imagine such mechanical designs from scrap metal is overwhelmingly impressive, such startlingly beautiful likeness has been captured so well. To boot, these creations are not just static sculptures, all the joints of these mechanical animals rotate and lock. Turning a removable crank on the Giraffe’s side raises the neck. Lifting the tail releases a catch and lowers the neck.

The mechanical Elephants are made out of automobile transmission parts, electrical conduit, pipe, rod and sheet steel in about three and a half months’ time, they measure at 36″ X 36″ X 18″ and weigh in at about 85 lbs.

The mechanical elephants are more than sculptures, given their maneuverability – all the joints are movable and they lock in place; the ears can move back and forth, while the trunk can be lowered or raised.


Dancing Robot | MechRC

April 20, 2009 - Leave a Response

With 17 precision servos, the MechRC is capable of performing 180 degree movement. Using a three-dimensional software program, the user can input custom motions.

The robot comes with over 100 motion files pre-installed, from killer fighting moves to hardcore dance motions, with even more available on the supplied CD-ROM and from the MechRC website.

Programming is done via an interface that looks like an animation filmstrip, by simply positioning the robot into the different poses you want, then assigning it to a button or button combo on the handset and hitting “Download”. You can also add sound effects, pre-recorded voices, and music files; these play from a speaker in the robot’s chest. An infrared controller is also included.

The design of the robot allows you to easily add additional mechanical components. The MechRC appears to geared toward user-friendliness, with the handset controls resembling a gamepad-style remote, a range of upgrade kits, and a straightforward method of creating motion files and action sequences with the MechRC Commander Software.

Robotic Fish to Combat Water Pollution

April 19, 2009 - Leave a Response
Robotic Fish

Robotic Fish Android Probe

British scientists have designed a robotic fish that detects contamination in water. The fish, which is about 1.5 meters long, will be released in the port of Gijón in Asturias, Spain. If the project is successful and the fish detects contaminated waters, it will then be used in rivers, lakes and seas all over the world.

The robotic fish looks like a normal carp and mimics the movement of real fish almost identically. Costing roughly £20,000, it swims at a speed of about one meter per second. It contains chemical sensors which aid in finding dangerous pollutants such as leakage from boats or underwater pipelines. If the fish finds traces of contamination, it then sends the information wirelessly back to the control center. The fish lasts about eight hours before it swims itself to a charging hub to refresh.

The robots, designed and being built by professor Huosheng Hu and his team at the University of Essex, U.K., aren’t able to be caught in nets easily and will most likely not be mistaken for prey, since predators usually stay clear of fake fish.

Unlike earlier conceptions of its type, these are able to navigate completely independently without any human interaction.

Rory Doyle, senior research scientist at engineering company BMT Group, which developed the robot fish with researchers at Essex University, said there were good reasons for making a fish-shaped robot, rather than a conventional mini-submarine.

“In using robotic fish we are building on a design created by hundreds of millions of years’ worth of evolution which is incredibly energy efficient,” he said. “This efficiency is something we need to ensure that our pollution detection sensors can navigate in the underwater environment for hours on end.”

Hu and his team plan to build five fish and hope to release them into the sea by the end of next year.

Jeremy Mayer | Typewriter Sculpture

April 18, 2009 - Leave a Response

So while this technically doesn’t fall under the category of digital media, artwork from obsolete technology seems to have its place. I’d like to tell you a bit about a designer I came across on the web – Jeremy Mayer – who creates anatomical representations of human figures, animals, etc. all from parts of old typewriters he has disassembled. One of the most impressive aspects of his work is that he does not weld or glue together any of the individuals pieces.

The process is entirely cold assembly. It is estimated that about 1,000 hours and about 40 typewriters are needed to put together a full-scale figurine.

Jeremy Mayer is from Tahoe City, California. His fascination with typewriters and art began as a boy. He began working with typewriters in 1994. To date his typewriter sculptures have formed cats, crickets, human skeletons and even “anatomically correct human figures”.

He sources old typewriters on eBay, flea markets and second hands stores. He then takes them apart by hand, categorizes them and can then spend hours and sometimes even years creating his typewriter creatures.

They’ve always been intensely interesting to me (when I was about ten years old I wanted to take apart my mother’s 1920’s Underwood), so it was natural that, having a typewriter and some free time, I would want to dissect one.

Below you can see some examples of Mayer’s amazing work. For further examples visit

Cat Typewriter Sculpture

Typewriter Face

The Wearable Keyboard

April 10, 2009 - Leave a Response

These rather bizarre looking pants were created by product design student Erik De Nijs from Holland for a school project which required him to combine two brand items to create a new product. Named ‘The Beauty and the Geek jeans’, he designed them to allow computer users “more freedom of movement”…

but the main objective was to create a functional fashion meets technology item that would be seen as weird and wacky, and not necessarily a practical design.

The wearable device is integrated into a pair of designer jeans; it features a built-in keyboard, mouse, and computer speakers that play audio at knee height. The keyboard is bluetooth enabled, and is compatible with any laptop or desktop computer. Whether typing on your crotch will catch on remains to be seen…hopefully not.

Keyboard Pants

Keyboard Pants