Category: design

Cities of the Future, Built By Drones, Bacteria, & 3D Printers

I have a new article up on Fast Company about programatic matter, synthetic biology, robotic swarming, and the future possibilities of architecture.

As complex ecosystems, cities are confronting tremendous pressures to seek optimum efficiency with minimal impact in a resource-constrained world. While architecture, urban planning, and sustainability attempt to address the massive resource requirements and outflow of cities, there are signs that a deeper current of biology is working its way into the urban framework.

More…

model

Recent Notes on Reality Capture & 3D Printing

It may be symptomatic of our times but the delta between weak signal & fast-moving trend seems to be getting shorter & shorter. Compelling innovations are bootstrapped rapidly into full-fledged solutions, enabling a highly-efficient lab-to-home ecosystem. While it’s been percolating for years, the emergence of consumer 3D printing really only landed on the hype cycle in the past 12 months or so but in this time there have been considerable advances.

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3dgun

weak signals in 3d print disruption

Peter Thiel’s foundation gives $350,000 to back Modern Meadow’s efforts to create bioprinted meats.

An engineer prints a working lower receiver for an AR-15 using a 15-year old Stratasys printer.

A Glasgow professor modifies a 3D printer to make pharmaceuticals.

More people manipulating matter with cheaper hardware. The rising tide of technology lifts all boats…

…..

Apple’s iPad Offers Salvation to Beleaguered Media Publishers

While the chorus of hand-picked pre-release iPad reviewers has pretty roundly declared it just as magical as Steve Jobs told us it would be, and how the interface sweetly beckons the user into it’s experience before gently disappearing to reveal some new oddly-posthuman machine love affair, not a whole lot is being said about what this device means to content publishers. The naysayers deride, among oh so many niggling things, it’s flat file system, lack of HDMI output, no USB, no Flash support, and virtual uselessness as an authoring platform but, clearly, that’s not what it’s really meant for. As many have noted, the iPad is a device designed primarily for consumption.

More specifically (and more importantly to the publishing & distribution biz), the iPad is a shiny, friendly, closed & gated, DRM’d device for finding, purchasing, and consuming new media, all managed by the secure & reliable iTunes Store. The user gets what is arguably a faster, more intuitive, and compelling experience that will probably have them throwing gobs of money at the next generation of digital media. Publishers get a delivery target that is a de facto store with all the innate moral understanding about payment and value and theft that comes with that context. And consumers get the ability to search, find, purchase, and consume media in one single, engaging mobile device.

In the iPad frontier, it’s explicitly OK for publishers to charge users for content. They have a whole new platform in which to innovate experiences that upsell users from the last generation’s content. You loved The Beatles remasters? Well now you can get The Beatles remasters with HD multimedia interactive album copy & studio videos for only $22.95 an album!

It’s no wonder that Disney, ABC, the Wall Street Journal, Netflix, Conde Nast, Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, Penguin, Marvel, and many, many others have rushed to the new platform to plant their flags and set up shop. Marvel basically set up it’s own comic store on the device, as Netflix has done with video. The Wall Street Journal has the perfect premium gateway for their subscription model. News & magazine publishers barely breathing after the beating they’ve taken since the web forced them to give away all their content for free must be droooooling over the opportunity to create the next generation of news experiences in a gated platform. Likewise for the book publishers finally reaching the new frontier of interactive digital content more compelling than paper books now lining so many remainder shelves like dusty word bricks. And arguably, the planet may be at least partially relieved of some of the paper and ink waste bloating landfills (we’ll overlook the as-of-yet unresolved energetic/carbon burden of dematerializing into electronic containers…).

While many of us have been beckoning the new era of open content, the major media publishers have been begging for the lockdown offered by the iPad. To them, the device promises both a new platform for innovating compelling content, extending their business opportunities into the future landscape at a time when they’ve been so stuck in the past, and it offers the security of a trusted gate for managing purchases and IP protection. It’s more of a nightmare for a lot of people but for the majors it has to be a dream come true. I can only assume that Steve et al worked closely with these interests to make sure they help build an impressive content catalog and a massive hype machine to drive as many new buyers to the iPad as they can. Apple knows that it sells a lot more product when it has the major distributors on it’s side and, at this point, the Old Media houses are pretty much powerless in Steve’s patented Reality Distortion Field.

Questions remain, of course. They’ve already sold over a million units in pre-sale but will the price point hold enough momentum to herald the new age of digital content consumption? Fanboys and early adopters are not enough to sustain a publishing revolution. Apple will probably drop the entry level price in another year or so after it’s stacked up a solid catalog of content. Will the content be good enough to merit the costs? The Wall Street Journal thinks people will pay $17 a month for their service. I wonder if more news sites will follow the lead of the Wall Street Journal and start locking down their web content..? And how long until all the content houses push back and want to extend distribution to the next gen of iPad competitors? Well, it hasn’t been much of a problem for iTunes & the iPod so far. That ecosystem, with plenty of would-be competitors, has kept music publishers pretty happy in a time of otherwise dismal CD returns. Will Apple’s DRM solution be enough to stem the blood loss from file sharing? Face it kids, piracy is a problem for the industry. And face it, industry: your recycled, top-40, tent pole, hedge fund, bloated, over-managed content production models are done. Get used to the long tail of compelling new media niche content that costs half as much as it used to.

Whatever you think about Apple, however much you hate them for being so good at manipulating the public narrative in their favor, however much you detest-and-secretly-admire their obsessive design principles, their ability to dismiss seemingly obvious functionality, their iron-fisted distribution mamagement, and their cavalier “we don’t really worry about the business side” attitude towards their shareholders… Whatever. Apple has lined up pretty much the entire content industry, pointed them at a new playground, and guaranteed them a financial return on their efforts. Will it be enough to save their business in the face of the democratized world of free user content? The industry will abide and do it’s best to make compelling new content that’s only available on this very compelling new device.

[For a much more user-centered take, see Cory Doctorow's impassioned piece, Why I Won't Buy an iPad and Think You Shouldn't Either. Also see Joel Johnson's similarly impassioned counterpoint.]

[Andrew Keen summed it up nicely in this tweet: "my prediction: iPad will formalize chasm between Apple's high-end paid content model & Google's low-end free model. Adieu to mass media."]

[Quinn Norton discusses the Elephant in the room: the iPad is simply too expensive for most people.]

[Investor Howard Lindzon shows off the NASDAQ app w/ StockTwits support. Lovely UI!]

[Round-up of media brands currently on the iPad.]

“Digital Wallpaper”

The post title is in quotes because, although the effect is quite clean & nice, the tech is projection and not really digital wallpaper. What the demo suggests is a programmable surface material, perhaps made of some sort of liquid OLED or biolumin. Wallpaper or paint that could cover a room and represent the full RGB spectrum, dynamically. Nevertheless, the video below suggests the end result of such a future tech, much like the 555Kubik video facade projection.

Hirzberger Events – Digital Wallpaper from Gregor Hofbauer on Vimeo.

As an aside, I’ll be posting more videos given the highly visual nature of a lot of the cool emerging tech these days.

General Guidelines for Cloud Tech

These are my brief (and very rough) notes from 5 minutes ago summarizing some guidelines I feel are critical for application & service development:

The cloud is everywhere.
Applications grab eyes.
Mobile/desktop/cloud – Don’t draw partitions.
Seek integrations across platforms.
Scale services by UI. Eg editing photos on a mobile is not appropriate but capturing images and uploading them to a workspace is.
Build communities.
Provide ubiquitous workspaces.
Communicate, Collaborate, Create, Share

Guns & Liberty in GTA IV

I’m driving along in a 1963 Cadillac trying to hold the lumbering sway of its heavy chassis straight to the road as I rumble down the city street past the usual castaways and early risers. I can’t feel it but the steam coming out of their mouths makes me think it’s a bit chilly out, though at least one or two of the morning denizens are blowing cigarette smoke, not just hot breath. From the radio in my Caddy rise arpegiated synth lines, sawtoothed and filtered, beatless but rhythmic, like a ca. 1993 ambient chillroom set. The sounds lift and expand taking my view up the pink walls to the roofline, then higher to the dawning skies. A synthetic voice like a female Hawking intones the moment of eternity, speaking softly to the evolutionary imperative of our cultural awakening. Rich pads wash under it all merging with the engine of my Caddy and the sounds of the morning as I roll on down the streets.

It’s sunrise and I’m back in Liberty City.

I haven’t spent much time at all in the great MMO’s like World of Warcraft or Everquest, but a part of me lives and breathes in the otherworld of Grand Theft Auto. I have deep memories of slamming a stolen Sentinel (BMW clone) down the blurring night streets of the first Liberty City in GTA3, under the glowing lamps and through the fog, the pounding beat of the rave channel banging and echoing in dubbed out midnight madness. One of those songs is a signature for me – an anthem – yet I’ve never known it anywhere else. I played Vice City and San Andreas too, but I’ve never been that concerned with the missions. For me it’s about the immersion and the place-ness of it all. An open landscape rooted in reality yet free of enduring consequence.

I’m in the new Liberty City and I’m struck by the light. I’ve come to really appreciate a good lighting model, having worked on some in the past and having had the opportunity to see the warmth of truly rich algorithms. The world of GTA4 is heavy with reds and yellows making it feel more earthy and warm. Underneath the raised railways, light and shadow are splashed across the streets filtered by the steel webwork above. As I drive below my car flickers dark & light in shadowed semaphore. Flying over the city islands in a cheat-enabled helicopter the sun washes across the water like a giant fish catching the light across a thousand shiny scales. I can see boats far below skipping across the surface. The sunsets are beautiful, casting a pink orange glow across the building facades. It deepens to red and then blue as night falls and the moon ascends.

The city is alive, crowded with traffic and pedestrians and little bits of trash blowing past. Birds take flight as humanoid bots engage each other, driven by runtime AI imperatives. I saw one car rear-end another. Both drivers stepped out and began cursing each other. In moments, fists were flying and a brawl ensued. At another moment I was accosted by a Russian who ran into me on the sidewalk. He didn’t like the cut of my jib and began attacking me. Fortunately for me (and him, given my heavily-armed status), a cop car had just been passing. It stopped and out came two officers who detained and arrested the man, stuffing him into the back of their cruiser to be whisked away to some deep digital prison. Even polygons can go to jail.

On my cellphone I get calls from my cousin Roman pleading for rescue from his angry Albanian loan sharks. Then a call from my new girlfriend, Michelle, who wants a second date (there are friends in the game and how you treat them will determine the opportunities presented to you in the future). Hopefully it won’t be back to the bowling alley – the site of my bitter defeat on the lanes. But really, I just want to drive around and harass the cops. My cellphone also lets me enter cheat codes to stock up on weapons cause I’m not feeling very safe on these mean streets without a rocket launcher and a heavy caliber assault rifle. This place is violent and sooner or later somebody is gonna step up on me, be they local hood or bad cop. Maybe I might slam my stolen SUV into a police cruiser or accidentally run down some pedestrians on the sidewalk while changing the radio station (I love Weazel News! The game is rife with rich socio-political satire that very much reflects my own new-millennial sensibilities, skewering many of the malicious entities stalking our planet). Or I might land my helicopter on the roof of a ten-story building and begin sniping at gang members down on the street. The point is, sooner or later I’m gonna do something that will upset the cops enough to come after me. Then it’s just a hail of gunfire, exploding vehicles, SWAT teams, and fiery helicopters raining down from the sky.

In one firefight I was getting shot by an LCPD officer as he marched straight at me, his pistol popping hot lead into my chest. I struggled to find a weapon, finally raising a shotgun to his face. He fired one last shot as I pulled the trigger and, as the color bled out of the scene and the camera tilted and pulled away, both he and I flew backwards from each other, blood flying with our bodies falling to the pavement in gravity’s final embrace. A short re-spawn and I’m back on the streets, fitted with milspec gear and an unbidden lust for mayhem.

I’m crouched and sidestepping across the road, targeting several LCPD cops and pulling off shots at each. There are at least 6 squad cars parked sideways all around me, lights spinning and sirens blaring. Some have dead cops in front of them, others have officers crouched behind open doors yelling and firing guns at me. Two SWAT helicopters circle overhead, speaking through loudspeakers while firing heavy artillery on my position, city skyscrapers rising up above like Anubin guards at the gates of the Underworld. Their numbers are declining but they’ve got me out-gunned. I know I’m going down but how many can I take with me? The car next to me is on fire and two cops are stalking towards me, firing. I pull out a grenade and as the silver bullet with my name on it sears deep into my chest, I drop it to my feet, pin pulled, falling to my knees. The two cops are right next to me, stunned for a second, then turn to run just as the fuse hits the charge and all three of us are blown several yards into the sky like fiery twisted rag dolls, arching off each in our own singular trajectory pulled inevitably back to the earth just as the car explodes and flips itself in a giant fireball of twisted metal.

It’s the little things like this that make me glow with happiness. The sheer magic of physics and agency. The emergence of such rich and staggering complexity from a simple set of rules. The reality teased out from so many lines of code. The place is alive and feels so whether I’m there or not.

I haven’t played many of the missions. I will, but only to learn more about the city. Like, where the internet cafe’s and strip clubs are, and which buildings I can enter. The place is so huge it takes a monumental effort to get an understanding of the geography. I keep trying to remember street names and neighborhoods, referring to the map to cohere it all into a consistent sense of place. This is a challenging task when your inner cochlear equilibrium is telling you you’re sitting on a couch, not hurtling down a boulevard. And it’s just so big. Liberty City is modeled after New York City and it really looks and feels like it’s gotten pretty close. Rockstar (the game maker) has included a multi-player mode that allows up to 16 people to enter into the world and play missions. Cops v. Robbers, Gang Battle, etc. But it’s clear that the goal, given enough computational meat, will be to turn Liberty City into a persistent MMO. Imagine if hundreds or thousands of user could populate the city 24/7…

I want it. I would pay for that. It could become my Evercrack. Even now there’s a part of me, a piece of my self, that lives in Liberty City. In some moments of reflection I am a humble but well-armed Russian immigrant walking the streets under that beautiful orange-red haze of sunset, waiting for the lights to power on and glow in the night fog. Waiting for the restrictions of the default world to shift imperceptibly enough to break some of the constraints of law and society. I’ve never bought into the notion that video games make kids violent. Bad parenting and abuse makes kids violent. Judgment and hatred makes kids violent. Ignorance and fear lands kids in jail and kicks them out onto the streets. For me and most, these worlds enable the imagination to come closer to daylight. They are sandboxes of the Self. Playgrounds of the mind. Liberty City happens to be a playground somewhat prone to violence but it’s also a place of fun, lit with humanity and humor.

As these places become more real and engage more eyes, the content will open up. To advertising, of course, but also to home-brew music and video. To Twitter feeds and blog RSS. Ap Wire news will spill into game world video displays. What if I could design a bot skin that looked just like me? Put it on a bot, add my own voice clips, and then watch recorded video of that bot’s experiences in the game world while I’m away? Imagine CCTV’s on virtual street corners that pipe live feeds to real-world desktop clients or http? Imagine smart mobs and political protests by avatars who have modded their characters to hold signs or wear furry costumes. MMO’s should be hackable and prankable, wired to the web and mobile devices. I want to use my game cell phone to call other players across the city. I want to use my real-world iPhone to call and see people inside Liberty City. I want the lines to blur more and more between reality and virtuality. I want the spirit of imagination to ingress deeply into the world of humanity.

And I want fast cars and powerful weapons that don’t really kill anyone.

Grand Theft Auto IV delivers in great measure. The world is deeper, more alive, warmer and richer. Traffic snarls and the citizenry engage and react. The city is enormous yielding endless hours of fun and immersion. So much to explore, so many cars to jack, with an engaging narrative weaving through the streets and alleyways. GTA4 is a caricatures of America, witty and sarcastic, painted across an inconceivable amount of polygons pulsing to the currents of floating-point mathematics. It’s a playground for 30-something children of the modern West, reaching out to live the myths of a street warrior culture peddled by media and fiction. Most of all, Liberty City is a model for the ongoing ingression of mind into matter and the wiring of datastreams into the social consciousness. Half the joys of GTA4 are the expectations and imaginations of what future iterations will bring to the genre… what fictions will become real and how the bodies we inhabit will reflect into such immersive virtual worlds unbinding the Soul and Self from flesh.

Perhaps I’m gushing with fanboy glee but I have a sense, as of yet unwritten, that something very deep and transformative is occurring in the digital lands we’re moving between…

A Little Virtual Spice Please

To briefly elaborate on an earlier post about Second Life… And specifically, ways in which I believe a modern 3d immersive world can leverage the new wave of cloud tech and create a truly compelling experience:

I want downtown billboards streaming Twitter feeds, rich dataviz, global network traffic, weather patterns, Flickr streams, and cycling media channels. I want to Dj from Traktor directly into a virtual club. I want interactive music and video remix tools that include the world as a substrate. I want to endow my avatar with metadata callouts, grouped in trust profiles, that display my affinities, affiliations, tag cloud, LinkedIn profile, sms number, twitter id, and credit accounts as appropriate to those I meet. I want to be free to re-purpose 3D assets from 3DSM, Maya, and Sketchup into my worldspace. I want a beautiful living homeworld that gathers the populace and inspires users and developers to create their own content elsewhere on distributed servers. I want to join friends on a virtual hilltop and watch the clouds drift past, watch the sun set, and the moons rise. I want to get lost in emergent behaviors, intelligent agents, and the beauty of physical dynamics. I want to easily find friends across multiple servers, across social nets, and out into mobile, gsm, and phone networks. I want an open-standard, opt-in, cloakable virtual ID that can be searched for and found across all dominant gaming and immersive networked worldspaces – and then when I find my friend I want to be able to join them wherever they are. I want peer-to-peer drop-boxes and back-channels that can address files to dominant industry and open-source applications, then back to in-world interfaces. I want an in-world, heads-up fly-out phone/sms/notepad/web-browser overlay that’s data synched to my mobile phone. I want to stumble into sinuous plotlines that sweep me away to distant parts of the virtual world. And yes, I want an SDK that allows EA to stick the Tony Hawk trick and physics model into a nice binary that can be purchased and installed into my client so I can skate around the place. And yes, I will try to grind your avatar if you have any linear edges sticking out.

I’m totally dreaming, I know. But dreams are what the future is built upon.

Open Source Hardware (Limor Fried & Philip Torrone) – ETech08

Hardware is much easier to copy now. Hardware & software is blurring – ex: firmware updates.
Speed of hardware hacking is remarkable.

Why open source hardware? Contribute to the pool of knowledge; freedom to pursue software/hardware creativity; community development and quality; excitement about building things; education;

Layers:
- Hardware/mechanical diagrams: 2D models, vector, DXF or AI (KiCAD)
- Scematics & circuit diagrams: PDF, BMP, GIF, PNG
- Parts list (Bill of Materials): data sheets (x0xb0x TB303)
- Layout diagrams: physical map of parts
- Core/Firmware: on-board source code
- Software/API
Like most developers, they don’t mention the human interface layer.

Roomba has an open API. Companies that release open platforms find much greater value (and mindshare) from user mods.
Ambient Orb publishes schematics and parts list. Neuros OSD publishes schematics (semi-open but falls short).
Hardware is mostly based on patents, not copyright. Licensing: CC, GPL, BSD, MIT
Chumby: programmable data portal.

Other open source hardware resources (business models): Fab@Home, Daisy MP3 player, Adafruit, Arduino open-source electronics prototyping platform. See also Make magazine & the Maker Fair.

Cool stuff: Twittering plants with Arduino – plants that call you and say they need to be watered (Twitter as SMS bridge); Open prosthetics; Minty Boost open source USB charger;

Ed note: Imagine an online repository of mechanical diagrams for DIY desktop fab/rep…

the mind reels

So here is the entire install pathway for your new plugin, as uncovered by your intrepid adventurer who has yet not been able to successfully download and install his $300 software.

1) insert CD and run “installer”
2) enter Serial # and email
3) installer queries hardware (—, in this case) for Authentification id
4) install then goes to the web and sends this data to the host, or some subsidiary handler
5) server then sends an email to your entered addy with a link to download the file
6) from email go to server and download the file
7) drag app pkg into applications folder
8) Launch
9) in app UI, enter activation code and wait for server handshake
10) run your new $300 application happy in the knowledge that your software provider no longer thinks you’re a dirty rotten criminal.

Note the many potential points of failure and multiple questionably-secure web connections. And I still don’t have any usable software. Now they can bear the cost of my tech support phone call, and emails, and blogging, etc…

Again, I really like their stuff but this is just ridiculous. Professionals pay for software. Kids and criminals pirate. And kids often end up becoming professionals who buy your software because they pirated it when they were in school.

terrible installer experience

I deal with installers and activation requirements often at work so this sort of thing really bugs me. I ordered a hard copy of the —- plugin. I received the cd and began the installation only to find that my CD is just an empty installer shell that goes to a web server to download the file. So here I am with no internet access on my workstation completely unable to fetch and download the plugin that I paid $300 for to have a 700MB cd that doesn’t even have the full installer on it!

update:
Found a workaround that claims to allow me to download the installer file from a web-enabled machine, then manually move it to my music workstation for install. However, the installer shell asks for Serial & Authentification info (which I have – legally), but has no way of cross-checking the info to verify that it’s an acceptable combo, is entered correctly, etc… it simply passes this text onto a web server.

And promptly returns an error saying the page is not available. No feedback about my installation. No suggestion that I entered the serial wrong or that my email doesn’t match the one they have for me. Nothing but the eternal winds of suckage. And I haven’t even made it to Activation yet…

I’ve used — for 4 years now and I love the system, but this stuff really undermines my faith in their product. You should always always always do whatever you can to guarantee a successful and easy installation.

This does not keep your software from being pirated. It only pisses off the honest people that are trying to pay you for your product.

Again I implore you and every other software shop: make installation easy and reliable.

tokyo street design

I’ve created a new Flickr set of photos Andrea & I took in Japan of cool design bits (sadly limited to 200 lest I send Flickr $25, which seems a bit much for me right now after hemorrhaging cash in Tokyo). Lot’s of street tags and stickers, adverts & signs, various anthropomorphic critter logos, infographics, temple design elements, night-time street neon, et cetra. Most are from Tokyo but there are also some from Kyoto and Shimoda. Great inspirations for design/manga projects and a nice travelogue of detail from street level in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Tokyo Street Design

As an aside, I knew that black lab was famous and full of doggly integrity (my original guess was that he’s running for Senate). Searching a bit, I found this (masterfully translated by Google’s wunder-engine). But clicking a bit further reveals a lovely page featuring photos of people’s dogs with the poster.

Technology & Sustainability: BIM

Commercial buildings use a tremendous amount of materials, both in their construction and in their ongoing operation. Traditionally, the latter impact was only realized once construction was complete and the building occupied. If you saw your cooling bills are sky-high because of inappropriate materials or orientation, you pretty much have to suck up the financial impact to your bottom line and accept the environmental impact of your error.

Now advances in AEC software and GPU hardware are enabling the realization of pre-visualization and simulation with Building Information Models. This software allows full tracking and analysis of materials, construction, design, and operation, with the benefit of being able to modify any of these properties during design and see the resultant affect in simulation.

From Wikipedia:

BIM can be used to demonstrate the entire building lifecycle including the processes of construction and facility operation. Quantities and shared properties of materials can easily be extracted. Scopes of work can be isolated and defined. Systems, assemblies, and sequences are able to be shown in a relative scale with the entire facility or group of facilities.

More interesting and pertinent to the steady-but-staggering evolution towards a sustainable 1st world culture, BIM analysis can be used to predict the energy usage and environmental impact (and, hence, the overall cost of operation) of a building well before construction.

From CAD User Online:

It means optimising buildings to reduce consumption and energy use (in fabrication and operation). The use of locally-sourced renewable materials, improved insulation and energy-optimised buildings are all part of this effort. It means reducing reliance on fossil fuel for heating, cooling and lighting by optimising the choice of site, building orientation and design in order to maximise solar gains and daylight factors.

It means reducing the impact of storm-water discharges on the watershed by reducing rainfall runoff with green roof and water recycling methods. It means promoting the clustering of industrial parks, the use of public transportation and car pooling. With this in mind, designers can achieve better designs through managing change more effectively.

The take-home point and the thing that makes this actually quite interesting to more than just engineers and businesscritters, is that it’s easier for developers to understand and control for the environmental impact of construction before the ground is even broken. The best way to affect ecological sustainability is to make it easy and cost-effective.