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 came across the really interesting video, below, yesterday. Basically Matt Richardson married a picoprojector to a Raspberry Pi computer and created an excellent demonstration of yet another use for digital light. Good work, Matt!
Whether or not you actually want this on your bike (I do!), it points out the very useful things that can be done with relatively low brightness –because he illuminated a fairly small area. It also shows you often can get away with low resolution — in this example because BIG characters needed to be projected to be easily seen by the bike rider.
Picoprojectors are an ideal tool for playing with digital light. I talked about that in a post about 18 months ago (Seeing the (digital) light). Natan Lindeer did some interesting work at MIT MediaLab, too (see LuminAR) .
I found this on the Arduino blog recently: Matt Leggett has been having some fun with wearable pixels. He sewed an alcohol sensor, some LEDs and an Arduino processor into a jacket. The idea is that you breathe into the sensor and the LEDs light up to show how inebriated you are. Too many lit LEDs and your friends should call a taxi for you. Perhaps the Arduino could even make the call automatically. Maybe Moritz Waldemeyer or Vega Wang could incorporate this into their wearable electronics.
I think this could be done without needing to blow into a sensor. After all, too many drinks and you might not remember how! SoberSteering is developing a car steering wheel that senses blood alcohol levels through ones skin. Maybe their sensor could be built into clothing and sense alcohol levels in real time.
I know of more than a few fellow bloggers who probably wouldn’t wear this kind of this kind of clothing. For them, it would mean pixels everywhere would keep them from going anywhere, by car at least <grin>. Or, at the very least, they may stop getting served earlier in the evening.
In fact, MicroTiles might never have been invented if certain unnamed inventors had been wearing Leggett’s invention!
Recall that LuminAR combined a pico-projector and camera with control electronics and firmware to achieve a gesture-based digital lamp. Arduino Arts just focused on the controlling a simple desk lamp, but they achieved something that is eerily similar to well-known Pixar animation. Take a look at the YouTube video to see for yourself.
The “annoying” term comes from their website. I think a better word would be “intriguing” because there are so many possibilities.
Now if they could put a pico-projector inside the lamp, and add a camera, well then they would be awfully close to creating something people would recognize as digital light. If LuminAR looked more like this it would be even cooler than it already is.
These guys based their project around the Arduino processor. There are a huge number of people creating projects using the open-source / open-hardware Arduino platform. It’s grown far beyond a cult — it’s a full grown movement. I confess to having a few Arduinos in my lab at home. Google “arduino” and you’ll get many, many hits.
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.
In early July of this year, I wrote about Sifteo in “Tiny pixels in your child’s pocket”. Sifteo cubes are now for sale, but they’re pretty expensive: a starter kit of 3 blocks for $149 with additional blocks at $45 each. You can learn more here.