On October 22nd I had the opportunity to talk at the TEDxVienna conference, where I presented the basic concepts of Tangible Musical Interfaces that led us to the development of the Reactable. This included a brief introduction into the design history of acoustic and electronic musical instruments and the problem of controlling complex synthesizers with standard tools. Our solution employs the ideas of tangible interfaces in order to realize an instrument that combines physical interaction with auditory and visual feedback. The talk concludes with a brief description of the Reactable itself and our contribution to the design of tangible interactive surfaces.
During the conference we also had the opportunity to organize a small showcase, where in addition to the Reactable two works from our latest Interface Culture exhibition were presented. The exhibited works were FMR1 by Fabrizio Lamoncha, Ioan Cernei & Maša Jazbec as well as the GearBox by Ulrich Brandstätter & Oliver Buchtala
In order to simplify the development tasks for my Tangible User Interface class at the Interface Culture lab in Linz, I just released a new tool for tangible interaction. nfOSC adds touchatag reader. When an RFID tag is placed onto such a device, the application sends a simple OSC message to the configured UDP port, an equivalent OSC message is sent when the tag is removed. The code is based on the libnfc and liblo libraries, and is available for download on this google code project page. This page also includes an example project for Pure Data demonstrating its basic capabilities. I am planning to include this functionality into reacTIVision, as soon as TUIO2 will become available. Alternatively nfOSC already includes an experimental implementation of the TUIO2 Symbol message in order to demonstrate its capabilities.
After spending the last years on media art festivals, I took the opportunity to present my recent work on tangible interactive surfaces on this year’s conference on “Interactive Tabletops and Surfaces“, which took place last week in Banff, Canada. Since I presented the latest updates around the reacTIVision and TUIO framework, I was glad to finally meet some interesting colleagues, which I only knew by name so far, such as Thomas Hansen from pyMT and Florian Echtler, the author of the tisch framework. It was also great to see that Francois Berard, who improved the multi-touch support for the Diamondtouch, now also provides a TUIO bridge for this platform. Furthermore I had a brief chat with Edward Tse from Smart Technologies, who also expressed his interest of bringing TUIO compatibility to their platform.
Naturally these conferences are packed with interesting projects and research results, so I am going to try to select a few subjective highlights from various genres. Chi Tai Dang from the University of Augsburg for example presented a decent method for the identification of individual fingers of the hand based on their touch footprint geometry, and Miguel Nacenta from the University of Calgary explained that bird view parallel projection is the best choice for 3D tabletop environments. During the demo session I had the opportunity to try Nicolai Marquardt’s actuated tangibles, which provide various haptic feedback such as surface friction. Another really outstanding project was presented by Itsuo Kumazawa, who was showing several well designed passive rubber widgets, which provided an astonishing haptic sensation when used to control games on ordinary touch screens. Dan Jackson demoed the FiberBoard, which implements a smart method of how to decode touch data from an unordered bundle of optical fiber using an ordinary webcam. Interesting enough there have been also two labs showing their independent prototypes of a bent display that nicely combines a tabletop with a vertical surface. You can check out these and more demo videos on the conference’s youtube channel.
There have been also three prominent keynote speakers, where I found Ken Perlin‘s talk and presentation of his latest pressure sensitive touchco pads most interesting, which also inspired me to rethink the overall pressure encoding for the upcoming TUIO 2.0 protocol. Bill Buxton‘s final keynote was also very inspiring and entertaining as usual, he was basically talking about the future ubiquity of display technology and the related design challenges. Chia Shen presented interesting details of her previous pioneering work around the diamondtouch, but I felt that this might not have been the right format for the dinner talk. There have also been two tutorial sessions, where I chose to attend the one held by the Microsoft Surface team, who promised to present a taxonomy of interactive surfaces. Since I am naturally interested in this topic, I was of course a bit disappointed to see this taxonomy only inspired by the world of MS Surfaces and tablet PC’s. In general I felt that the conference had a slight over-representation of its sponsoring organizations, but I guess this is what the sponsoring is good for them in the end.
After the conference I had the great opportunity to visit the iLab at the University of Calgary (best known for the phidgets), which was one of the most active labs at the conference, where I also noticed a strong presence of researchers from Germany and Austria, such as the Media Computing Group from Aachen (slap widgets) as well as the Media Interaction Lab from Hagenberg (cristal project). All in all I have to say that it was definitely worth to attend this conference, but I felt that its focus was a bit too much on (multi)touchscreen research and technology, and I would have hoped to see a bit more on tangible interactive surfaces there.
Since I have been observing an increased public interest in the topic of augmented reality, which has been most certainly caused by the various mobile AR apps that have been appearing lately, I was using the google insights feature to verify the actual trend. Interesting enough playing with the results also showed the overall decline of the interest in virtual reality for example. Adding a few other HCI trends and hypes, it seems that around 2007 there has been a shift towards some alternative HCI topics. This turnaround seems to be also supported by this selection of input devices (excluding the mouse). Finally we can also observe a similar trend comparing the various user interface paradigms. So the traditional GUI and VR are apparently out, while touch interfaces and AR show increased popularity, although both topics have already been around well before that. Apparently the limited size and increased computing power of mobile devices supported most of these alternative interfaces, taking advantage of features such as multitouch, shaking gestures, camera tracking and the location services.
After an intense weekend at the Ars Electronica festival I traveled to Berlin to attend the ICMI Workshop, where I was invited to hold the keynote speech on Tangible Musical Interfaces this year. There were quite a lot of interesting student presentations about innovative musical interfaces, and at the end of the workshop we had the difficult task to select one of the projects for a prize, which we sponsored on behalf of Reactable Systems. In the end we decided to split the prize in order to award the two most outstanding creations. The Attract-O-Tron by Frederik Kalisch and Steffen Müller are two exceptionally well designed hand-held musical artifacts, which generate sound using electric motors. The GRID table by Tobias Hornberger convinced through its thorough synthesizer and composition concept, which was realized using colored building blocks. Apart from these two awarded projects I’d like to mention some further brilliant projects, such as the the Air Piano by Omer Yosha, the Squawk controller by Dennis Helfrich as well as the Looplex table interface by Marcus Holzmayr.
Finally I finished the long overdue update of my listing of Tangible Musical Interfaces where I have been collecting some quite remarkable projects within the growing area of tangible interfaces for music. Most of the examples have been selected because of their overall relation to the reactable in some way, but the new site also attempts to group the various instruments into music tables, token based sequencers or musical artifacts for example. The collection includes a description of each project along with a short video clip.