Archive for August, 2011
I’ve blogged several times about wearable pixels as well as pixels for interior design and architecture.
But for the world to be a canvas for digital light, digital light must conform to the world as it is — a world of moving shapes and forms. Forms that bend, shift and stretch. Projected light does this, but it can be limited by ambient light, sight lines, the color of the surface, and projector positioning issues. Pixels from projected light are really reflected pixels.
But what if the digital canvas could directly emit light, not just reflect it? That would open up a huge number of ways to use digital light. Recently I posted about work at the University of Illinois-Urbana where electronic circuits, including circuits with LEDs, could be put directly on the surface of the skin and other flexible surfaces.
Now, we’ve learned about the work of Dr. Qibing Pei his team at UCLA. The picture shows a blue light emitting surface being stretched 45%. The stretching is reversible.
This is a really important step forward. So far, we’ve mostly seen bendable light, but those approaches were usually brittle –and bendable isn’t the same as stretchable. The UCLA team solved this by fabricating transparent electrodes that included single-walled conductive carbon nanotubes and polymer composite electrodes in an interpenetrating network of nanotubes and polymer. This created a combined electrode with low sheet resistance, high transparency, high compliance and low surface roughness. They sandwiched a light emitting plastic between two of these new electrodes, applied current, and created stretchable light.
The pictures show a single stretchable light emitting surface…essentially one pixel. But this is just the beginning. Image this scaled up into large numbers of tiny, colorful, controllable, malleable pixels.
It’s early days yet, but imagine this being applied to wall coverings, furniture, curtains, clothes. It all depends on how rugged, scalable –and of course inexpensive– this process will ultimately become. It’s no stretch (bad pun) to say this could be a big step forward to the pixels-everywhere future.
You can read the UCLA press release here.
One of my earliest posts (way back in June) was Seeing the (digital) light. In it, I mentioned one of my early ideas was to use picoprojectors as digital light sources for interactive, responsive, desk lamps and room lighting.
Other people have been thinking about responsive light and it should be no surprise that one of those people is at MIT Medialab. Natan Linder has a project called LuminAR that uses a picoprojector as a digital bulb. He combines that with a camera system and a robotic arm and cool things happen… gesture based interaction, lighting, pixel modulation —digital light!
Watch his video below and see for yourself. It’s not pretty –it’s a proof of concept, after all — but I think it’s beautiful!
“Screens are prison cells for pixels” … paraphrased from a YouTube video by Natan Linder of the LuminAR project at MIT Medialab.
He gets it. Pixels should be everywhere. Vive les pixels libre!
More about LuminAR soon.
Earlier this month I wrote about”Pixels Big Enough to Hug” which generated a lot of interest. I came across a similar giant pixel project called “Light Drift” by Boston’s Howeler+YoonArchitecture. It was shown in October 2010 in Philadelphia and again in Boston in May 2011.
Pixels (they call them ‘orbs’) were in the river and on the shore. All of the pixels had blue and green LEDs inside them. Pixels on the shore communicated with pixels in the water, and pixels on the water also communicated with each other. The Architects Library blog has more detail. Quoting from that blog:
“Light Drift creates an atmosphere, a field of lights that transform in color and intensity based on the public interaction with it. The resting state of the field is a constant state of green. When a visitor approaches a land orb, the orb will start an “enticement mode” by pulsing between blue and green. If a visitor sits on the orb, the pulsing will transition to a blue state. The water orbs that align with the land orb will change colors at the same time, creating a linear extension of blue lights in the water. Because the orbs are arranged on a diagonal grid, the lines of lit orbs will form a series of intersecting lines in the field. The intersection of lines of lit orbs in the water will encourage different people interacting with the orbs to also interact with each other.”
Very nice. There are a lot more photos on flickr. Now if one could only fully control each orb’s color…. it shouldn’t be too hard to do that! Pixels in more and more places — pixels everywhere!
A repeated theme of this blog is ‘pixels everywhere’ …not just everywhere around us but even everywhere on us. We’re fast becoming part of the digital canvas.
For example, there’s been a lot of work in using digital light to illuminate our bodies for medical purposes. One excellent example I’m very familiar with is Christie’s VeinViewer.
I recently came across two other interesting examples on the MicroVision blog (MicroVision has an interesting scanning
laser technology). In one example, Stanford grad student Andrew Holbrook combined a MicroVision picoprojector with a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) system. The MRI output is painted directly onto the patient as shown on this picture from the MicroVision blog. Impressive.
In the other example, researchers in Bern, Switzerland have built a small handheld device with a MicroVision projector built-in. The idea is to project details of a human organ directly on the organ itself to aid surgeons. From an illustration on the blog posting, it looks to me like the orientation of the device is detected by markers on the device and this is used to adjust the projected image accordingly. If so, this would be different from the VeinViewer which incorporates a camera to directly image the skin. Whatever method is used, though, applying digital light to illuminate and inform doctors will become more and more important.
Laser light, as used by MicroVision, is capable of staying in focus over a very long range of distances which is useful for imaging on irregular surfaces like these.
Let me know of any other examples of this sort of use of digital light, dear readers!
Pixels need computing power to drive them… for players, content management and so forth. Pixels Everywhere will need low-cost computing power, and lots of it. The good news is that there’s a lot of work going on to make that happen.
One project that has been getting a lot of attention is the UK-based Raspberry Pi initiative which I tweeted about a number of weeks ago. Their goal is to create a pretty powerful computer that can be bought for $25 each in unit volumes. The tiny (very tiny) 700MHz ARM11-based computer will run linux, have built-in ethernet, USB, and video ports. It won’t have a lot of RAM… just 256MB… but will have an SD card slot.
Recently, Raspberry Pi announced they have an alpha version of the computer running. It’s physically larger than their eventual goal, but that’s normal at this stage to make debugging easier.
This could be an ultra-low cost player, networked to content management systems. The USB port means wireless, bluetooth, or other types of connectivity could be added. I wonder if OpenSplash will be able to run on it? Keep an eye on this one and let me know about any other similar computers you find.
Almost all displays are more-or-less two-dimensional –so many pixels in the ‘x’ dimension and so many in ‘y’. So-called 3D displays really aren’t 3D –the 3rd dimension is an illusion, created using a variety of
techniques including polarization switching, lenticular lenses, shuttered glasses, and so on.
But if pixels are really going to be everywhere, why should they be restricted to just two dimensions? They don’t, of course, and people are experimenting with this.
I was looking at hackaday.com recently and found this post about a 3D LED cube assembled by Brendan Vercoelen while he was a student at New Zealand’s Victoria University. His goal was to make a 16x16x16 matrix of red/green LEDs (4096 of them) but he stopped at 16x16x8. That’s still very impressive when you consider he built this by hand — each LED has 3 connections to it which meant he did a lot of soldering. The first video below is from his site.
Others (experimenters and companies) are also exploring this. For example, Instructables.com tells you how to build a less-ambitious version yourself ( see 2nd video further down this posting). Seekway in China seems to be selling something similar using layers of LED curtains (perhaps readers who know Chinese can comment more about what Seekway is doing).
Is this a practical 3D display? Probably not, but maybe that’s not the point. Maybe it’s simply a new and different way of expression, one more part of the digital light future.