Everything seems to be ‘cloud this, cloud that’ these days. So it was inevitable that pixels would sooner or later get in on the action. In this post, we’re talking about literal pixel clouds. Clouds made of pixels. In the sky.
Let’s look at two examples. Like the examples in my previous post (“big pixels. labour intensive pixels“) , these are big, labour-intensive pixels too. But unlike the previous post, they are most definitely digital light. Read on.
As usual, this post is about pixels, but it’s about as far from gigapixels and digital light as one can get.
It’s no secret that I think pixels are important. After all, soon they will be everywhere —interactive ones, tiny ones, covering huge areas. We’ll have the people who are working diligently behind the scenes to develop the advanced technologies needed to make this practical, easy to use, and affordable to thank. But low tech pixels can be beautiful, too –big pixels, huge pixels, giant pixels. Beautiful because they can be expressive and beautiful because of the labour and imagination it takes to create images with them. We’ve written about examples of big pixels in earlier posts (pixels you can hug, pixels that float). Today, let’s look at some old-tech, (almost) low-tech, and no-tech examples of big and sometimes beautiful pixels. And just for fun, I’ve tried to estimate the image specs as best I can.
Christian Faur’s crayon pixels
Artist Christian Faur produces beautiful works of art using handmade crayons. But he doesn’t draw with the crayons –instead the crayon tips are used as colorful pixels. Quoting from his website, “Christian Faur’s crayon art exemplifies a unique and exciting new technique. Instead of utilizing traditional medium such as oil paint, pastels, or watercolors, Faur turns to a material from our childhood: the crayon. Faur works with this familiar object in a novel way. Using crayons like pixels, he arranges thousands upon thousands of colorful handmade crayons into beautiful and elaborate works of art that allude to aspects of Pointillism and digital photography.”
You can find many more examples of his beautiful work here.
specs (rough guess):
number of colors: 26
pixel density: 15,300 pixels per square meter (my estimate)
frame rate: under 1 frame/day
La Scala Illuminata candle pixels
The picture on the left is of La Scala Illuminata in Caltagirone, Italy. The staircase was built in 1608 and is 142 steps (and thus 142 pixels) high. My guess is that it’s about 70 pixels wide. The pixels, as you can see from the photo on the right, are really candles. The display is shown yearly for two days in July and two days in August — a maximum frame rate of 4 frames per year ! You can find more information here.
specs( rough guestimate):
resolution: 70 (H) x 142 (V)
pixel density: 13 pixels / sq. meter
frame rate: 4 frames / year
For quite a while now, I’ve been saying the pixels will be so ubiquitous that we’ll consider them to be a building material. It finally seems to be on the verge of happening and in a more literal way than I expected based on a link sent to me by Charles Fraresso.
Lucem, based in Stolberg, Germany, has developed a light transmitting concrete product ( Illumni.co describes Lucem’s product in more detail here). The picture on the left is a building facade built using their product. The pixels are big! The photo on the right is the same building in daylight.
Lucem’s blocks aren’t full thickness concrete blocks. They are thin sheets of concrete with optical fibers embedded in them to let light through. In effect, it appears that what Lucem offers is a concrete cladding that goes onto other surfaces. LED backlighting provides light source.
resolution: 0.67 pixels / meter (H) x 2 pixels / meter (V)
pixel density: 1.33 pixels / sq. meter
colors: 16 million
Others in Germany have been working along similar lines. Dominik Kommerell and Angela Renz of the University of Applied Sciences in Stuttgart built a prototype of a pixelized concrete block, according to a post in designboom. Their prototype (shown on the right), is not a full sized concrete block but, instead, is intended to be used as a facade. In contrast to Lucem’s whole block illumination, Kommerel/Renz’s block has 64 individually addressable pixels. It was shown at the Media Facades exhibition way back in 2008.
specs (rough guesstimate; couldn’t find any details):
resolution: 16 pixels/ meter (V and H)
pixel density: 256 pixels / sq. meter
Participatory People Pixels
On February 2 this year, New York City’s Grand Central Station celebrated its hundredth birthday. Improv Everywhere staged Grand Central Lights for the occasion. 135 people, each with cameras and LED flashlights, stood on three rows of catwalks at one end of the station. They were choreographed to use camera flashes and flashlight movement to create a very interesting display. This definitely puts the labor in labor-intensive. It also takes the tech out of high-tech. There’s no denying it’s pretty, though. See the video below.
specs (my guesstimate):
resolution about 1.2 pixels per meter (H) by 0.3 pixels per meter (V)
pixel density: 0.36 pixels / sq. meter
I worry about what all these pixels will be used for. I mean, pixels everywhere is a lot of pixels if they’re really going to be everywhere, right? I’ve come across two people who are thinking about what pixels can do on a large scale.
Architect Greg Tran (subject of a future post) is exploring new ways of seeing the world as it might be. British artist David Hockney points to new ways to see the world as it is. There was a recent article in Technology Review by Martin Gayford about Hockney’s work in this area.
He writes about an array 18 HD displays (about 35 million pixels, which is a lot of pixels, I’m sure you’ll agree). The content was recorded on 9 cameras. Each half of the display shows the same moving scene but slightly displaced in time.
So what? Well, with this simple idea, the viewer can see the scene as is it and as it just was. Or, thinking differently, you can effectively see the scene as it is, and at the same time see what it soon will be. That’s definitely is not how we look at the world now.
David Hockney is a renowned artist and the Technology Review article looks at this work in that light. It is indeed potentially beautiful and enlightening. It’s also something potentially important as a new way of visualization. Imagine this beyond a puny 18 screens, but at room scale or larger.
Hockney is looking at ‘everywhere’ differently. How many other exciting new ways will there be to view the world when there really are unlimited pixels available everywhere?
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!
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.
Humbly admitting to a bit of narcissism, I googled ‘pixels everywhere‘ recently and stumbled upon ‘Pixels Motel Mozaique‘ by Dutch designers Jonas Vorwerk and Yoren Schriever. These indeed are (huge) pixels everywhere! I’m used to thinking about pixel sizes in fractions of a millimeter —these ones are fractions of a meter. In a world of megapixels, this site had decapixels (I understand they used just 50 pixels).
There’s a brief description of how the pixels work here. Each pixel’s color and brightness can be changed by tilting it (there is an accelerometer in each one). It certainly looks like people are having a lot of fun and it is pretty.
Now, if the pixels could self-detect and if we could get content to them… Hmmmm…
Yoren Schriever on his site mentions that each cube has a data port and “…this port can also be used to communicate with the firmware, making it possible to send color commands to the cube, or read the accelerometer values from it“. Maybe it is possible.
I wish I could have seen it in person. Great work, Jonas and Yoren. Thanks for inventing a new kind of interactive pixels. Who would have thought of pixels you could pick up and hug? I really, really like this.
Most of us use so-called social media…. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn…. but in some ways they are anti-social media. Why? Because we’re somewhere else from whomever we’re socializing with. Separate. Alone.
When we become surrounded by pixels, new ways of interacting, sharing, communicating, will emerge. All it will take is large amounts of pixels on the walls around us. Pixels that are interactive, responsive.
There was glimpse into this future at the recent InfoComm 2011 in Orlando where Baanto and Christie partnered to show something called “the Graffiti Wall”. Multiple people could interact with a 12 tile wide by 4 tile high (16′ x 4′) MicroTile wall using Baanto’s Shadowsense technology. If you watch the video, you’ll see multiple people simultaneously interacting with the wall and with each other. They not only used traditional gesture-based interactivity, they also used artists’ brushes to create a more natural illusion of drawing.
Imagine this in classrooms. In meeting rooms. In our homes. In public spaces. What new killer apps will emerge that weren’t possible before?
(full disclosure: I’m recently retired from Christie, and represent them on Baanto’s board. It doesn’t matter — I would think this is very cool no matter what!)