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next-generation work spaces

Humane Object Agency: Part Two, Implementation

Humane Object Agency: Part Two, Implementation

Collaborating faculty Matthew Lewis writes: In a previous blog post I described my introduction to the Humane Technologies project and my intentions for the pop-up week: exploring the use of interactive virtual reality to simulate an Internet of Things (IoT) filled space, with participants embodying the roles of the communicating smart objects inhabiting the environment. Leading up to the big week, I met with several of the participating faculty who gave me invaluable suggestions for additional readings, relevant pop culture references, and other perspectives on possible "motivations" for the IoT devices to be simulated in the project.

During the pop-up week Professor Michelle Wibbelsman and I met with Professor Hannah Kosstrin's dance class and explained the basic idea of the project. Michelle and I had come up with a few exercises/scores with different emphases for the students to try out. For example, we initially split the students into two groups, and requested that one group take a dystopian perspective of IoT devices, while the other group imagine a more utopian viewpoint. While the devices in the later group focussed on keeping the apartment inhabitant happy and comfortable, the former group embodied more of an overbearing nanny/salesperson space. For the initial round, we had requested that the performers communicate primarily via motion. There was a strong tendency however to want to speak primarily to the person in VR and communicate in general via anthropocentric means. For the next round we requested that communication only be through movement, and primarily between the IoT devices, rather than focussing on communicating with the the apartment's inhabitant. Additionally we asked some performers to take on the roles of aspects of the communications infrastructure: one dancer was "Wi-fi" and others were "messages" traveling through the network, between the devices.

There was very little time given for planning between each performance/simulation, so most of the systems and processes resulting were improvised during each performance. As a result very little actual motion-based successful communication took place (though lots of attempts were made.) However these sort of initial experiments using no technology in the classroom gave us a great deal of information and discussion points for our technology-based experiences a couple of days later.

Several people were involved in the implementation of the quickly assembled technological system. I initially had specified the desired system features and set up the physical system components. Skylar Wurster (Computer Science undergrad) and Dr. J Eisenmann (ACCAD alumnus / Adobe research) implemented the interaction and control scripts in the Unity realtime 3D environment. Kien Hoang (ACCAD Design grad) assembled a 3D virtual apartment for the VR environment. 

Professor Kosstrin participated in the role of the inhabitant of the VR apartment. At Professor Wibbelsman's suggestion we avoided naming this character so as to avoid too strongly biasing our notions of their role (e.g. "owner", "user", "person", "human", "human object", etc.) We ended up frequently making a stick figure gesture mid-sentence to refer to them during our discussions. It was intended that as the physical performers were communicating outside of VR, there would be some indication inside VR that the virtual smart objects were talking to one another. A few visual options were implemented in the system: the objects could move (e.g. briefly "hopping" a small amount), they could glow, or they could transmit spheres between one another, like throwing a ball. Given the motion-based communications we were attempting with the dancers, I chose to use primarily the movement method to show the VR appliances communicating. This was implemented with a slight delay: if the smart chair was going to send a message to the smart TV, first the chair would move, then the TV would move, as if in response. I imagined this being perceived like someone waving or signaling, followed by the message recipient responding by waving back.

We investigated two methods for connecting communications in the physical and virtual worlds. In our first trials, we simply relied on an indirect puppetry approach. A student at a workstation (Skylar) watched the dancers, and when one started communicating to another, he would press an appropriate keyboard button to trigger the communication animation in the virtual world. For one of the later runs, Ben Schroeder (ACCAD alumnus / Google research), Jonathan Welch (ACCAD Design grad), and Isla Hansen (ACCAD Art faculty) all contributed solutions to enable the dancers to touch a wire to trigger a communication. While this had the advantage of allowing direct control for the performers of their virtual counterparts, the downside was, it placed limitations on their movement possibilities. Regardless, inside VR, the movement of the appliances did not read for our VR participant as communication: "Why is the refrigerator hopping?" Time during the brief session didn't allow for experimentation with the other communication animation approaches, but I suspect some of the other modes might have fared better.

Professor Wibbelsman led the group in discussion and we quickly discovered that our goal of eliciting new ideas about future possibilities for these emerging technologies seemed to be a success: everyone had a great deal of strong opinions about what might emerge and big questions about what they might be more or less comfortable with. One further practical consideration that emerged was the need for dancers to use a separate "narration" voice to communicate with the person in VR, to tell them things they needed to pretend were happening in VR as the improvisation ran its course (e.g. a refrigerator door opening and giving them access to ice cream.) Despite the pop-up providing an invaluable week of time for everyone to focus on prototyping projects such as these, one of the more surprising challenges was having access to people's time. Many of the details of the project were not the result of well considered design decisions but rather because that was what the person who popped-up to work for an hour or two could accomplish before jumping back out to a different project.

Scott Swearingen: Surprising Uses for 3D Printing

As the Humane Technologies research team first began contemplating the 2016-2017 "Livable Futures" theme in Autumn semester, we held a series of sandbox sessions in the ACCAD labs and studios, each led by a different team member. The purpose of these sandboxes was to engage in a "doing thinking" process together with various humane technology frameworks in order to explore potential lines of inquiry, develop research questions, and build relationships. What follows are notes developed in conjunction with this particular sandbox session. 

Sandbox: Whitebox with Scott Swearingen

Wednesday, November 16, 9:30-11:30am at ACCAD

Attendees: Scott Swearingen, Kyoung Swearingen, Norah Zuniga Shaw, Alice Grishchenko, Stephen Turk, Mindi Rhoades, Alan Price, Peter Chan

Sandbox: Whitebox with Scott S

Anticipation / Expectation:

• Connecting virtual and physical experience…

• Digitizing the physical world using photogrammetry has become part of our common
vernacular in the creation of digital characters, assets, and more recently, full environments. However, this technology is often employed from a production-oriented perspective that is more design-agnostic than design-centric. By incorporating 3D-printing into the process, our new pipeline seeks to preserve design intent, and help maximize the value that designers as well as artists contribute to the creation of virtual environments.

• The point at which we deviate from typical production pipelines is after the creation of the white-box. The white-box is a low-resolution collision model that serves as the foundation for all interactions between the 'player' and the 3D world in terms of mechanics, collision, layout and flow. Because 'player' interactions within virtual spaces are so inextricably tied to the collision model of the white-box, using a 3D printer would ensure that the collision model's integrity would also be preserved as it was converted to a physical format. With a physical print of the white-box in hand, sculptors and painters can now create artwork for it, and focus their efforts in a more design-oriented approach. Once the physical sculpture is complete, it is digitized using photogrammetry and integrated with the original white-box.

• This workshop aims to discover opportunities that broaden collaborations between physical and digital artists in computer graphics production. It also seeks presenters who are interested in utilizing existing technologies (such as 3D-printing and photogrammetry) in new and innovative ways. In addition, our pipeline is visually very flexible, and should be of great interest to a wide spectrum of artists, educators, and studios.

•  Can we make physical component more ‘player-facing’ rather than only ‘developer-facing’ as dictated by the process?

• What can we discover about other prototyping models that could benefit from our process?

• What alternative digital-physical methodologies could help to steer our research?

• What are the best ways to develop our shared understanding and collaborative relationships?

Disposition / Experience:

• The Whitebox is mechanics (verbs)-driven in its employment of metrics, but more narrative-driven in terms of layout and flow.

• Build in a modular fashion to help reach visual parity with concept.

• How adaptable is the process to varying skill sets, how easily can it be experienced front-to-back?

• The process of alignment is the 'grayest' and most loose step, and could be difficult for a beginner to find success here.

• Are there opportunities to receive (or design with!) other sensory input, especially considering the physical<->digital pipeline.

• Much potential to evolve (and expand) into other domains.

• Desire exists within group to make the player-facing components more physical, not just the developer-facing ones.

• Plan to make an analog prototype.

• Very curious about application (from game to augment with masked animation for narrative and atmospherics.

• Has potential to draw on multiple disciplines.

Reflection / Opportunity:

• Opportunities and interest overlaps with architecture. This is the future of architectural presentation.

• Narrative design at its best when complimented by mechanics (and vice versa)

• Terminology can be an obstacle when communicating process across disciplines.