Welcome to the first in a series of insights into what it is that we do here at Lightwell. Every 3 months we will look at a few interactive projects and discuss the software or hardware that we used to make them work. In this issue we look at Google Cardboard, Windows Kinect 2, and multitouch walls from Planar.
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Giving Peace A Chance
The Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne opened their stunning new galleries earlier this month. The Shrine commemorates Australia’s war dead, and the new galleries detail the role of Australians in international conflicts. Unusually for an exhibition of this type, the Shrine has also devoted a gallery to peace and alternatives to conflict.
We were asked to create a multitouch wall that combines information about peacekeeping, peaceful intervention, figureheads of peace and monuments to peace. Two-fifths of the installation is devoted to a world map which shows information from the Global Peace Index, a dataset developed by Vision of Humanity, a not-for-profit based in Sydney. Scattered across the screen are a variety of interactive hand-drawn animations, such as a paper crane that unfolds and folds itself when you touch it.
It was an interesting design challenge to embed this data in a map of the world for a multitouch wall. Some visitors are taller than others and so we needed an interface that allowed for the varying heights of visitors to access the information for those countries in the north and south of the map.
The touchwall measures 3 metres x 1 metre high, and comprises 5 screens from Planar and a touch overlay from PQLabs. Multitouch screens come in different guises – some manufacturers call a screen ‘multitouch’ if it allows for two touches at the same time. Some other manufacturers offer seven touches, 10 touches, 32, 60 touches or unlimited touches. Basically the more you spend the more simultaneous touches you get. The one we used allows for 32 simultaneous touches, which was a perfect fit for a wall installation. The same technology might not work as well in a table format, as the screen could be accessed from all sides by more visitors and may need more simultaneous touches.
So the moral of this story is that for multiscreen installations the content aim, the number of visitors using the screen simultaneously, the environment and the interaction method all have an impact on what type of screen technology you specify and ultimately the impact on the budget.
Kids in the Barnyard
In October we made a fun Kinect game for kids at Dandenong Plaza shopping centre. Creating animations from farm and barnyard themed designs by MAKE, we thought it would be a great idea to use the new high-resolution Kinect 2 camera for interaction. Having had some success with Kinect installations before, the possibilities of the vistas opened to us by the new high resolution hardware were endless. How wrong we were.
After the new Kinect 2 was unboxed Richard and Trent jumped straight into development, expecting the promised land of high fidelity depth mapping and lightning fast skeleton tracking to open up before them. What they didn’t expect was a host of incompatibility issues, some less than complete documentation, and a subsequent need to buy a totally different PC due to an unreported yet incompatible USB card. Basically we broke the golden rule of new technology – don’t use it until you’ve used it.
But once those hurdles were overcome we managed to achieve the high resolution green-screen effect we were after. The children of Dandenong are some of the first in the world to experience this high resolution effect, and they showed their appreciation by covering the place in ice-cream.
Kinect programs are good for large-scale movements and interactions where the entire body is called into action. Or you might want more passive interaction from visitors – such as walking through a space and triggering events as they walk. This can be combined with other forms of capture such as Leap Motion or button presses or even other cameras.
The fact that Kinect can sense depth is useful where you want to remove the background from what the camera sees, like in our green-screen technique. The Kinect 2 also allows for more detailed skeletal tracking and face tracking than the previous version, which offer another way of getting beyond the mouse or the touchscreen interface. All of which is tremendously exciting for the type of people we are…
Making the Virtual World a Better Place
In September we made a project for the BEAMS festival in our suburb of Chippendale. A one-night street festival that aims to showcase the creative vibrancy of the area that real estate agents are now calling ‘Hippendale’ – get me a bucket.
To augment this new reality we made a program for Google’s Cardboard device. Google Cardboard is a cardboard viewer for Android phones that works as a cheap and cheerful Virtual Reality (VR) viewer.
Our program for Cardboard was a virtual view of Chippendale built from cardboard. Actual cut out and glued cardboard, mixing the low-tech analog approach of corrugated cardboard pieces with the high-tech of Unity 3D and the gyroscope and compass-driven delights of the Google Cardboard development kit.
For many people at BEAMS it was their first experience of a 360-degree virtual reality world. We set up three devices for audiences to have this 1-2 minute experience, and people queued all night long.
As a means of making a simple VR experience the Google Cardboard can’t be beaten, especially as you don’t have to put on an unwieldy headset that musses up your hair. You simply hold the box up to your eyes. Once you are in the virtual world interaction is a bit limited, but there are options for point-and-click (using a magnet attached to the headset) and other mechanisms to make more complex programs. We can also imagine it working for school groups or as a teaching tool, offering virtual spaces to an entire group of people without using large-scale projection setups.
In the next issue, we’ll take a virtual dive under Sydney Harbour with the Oculus Rift…