Live Drone and Prosper: Promoting Star Trek via Quadrocopter

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While debate rages in the U.S. over drone surveillance of its citizens, drones were pressed into service over London on Saturday for a less contentious purpose: To promote the upcoming Star Trek movie. Ars Electronica Futurelab, an Austria-based media art lab, collaborated with German quadrocopter manufacturer Ascending Technologies to give Paramount Pictures publicity via “spaxel.”

Thirty autonomous, LED-equipped “Hummingbird” drones took to London’s evening skies, then self-assembled into the Star Trek logo, which then rotated as a whole. If that sounds simple, it sure ain’t; Futurelab’s software has to keep the drones from crashing into each other while they take off and find their positions, and the matter was complicated by both wind and snow, the former affecting the navigation and the latter affecting the drone-to-drone communication. Nevertheless, they were able to pull it off:

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The Complete Death Spray Custom Formula

DeathSprayCustom-TheNorthRace-Fork.jpgVia The North Race

I don’t know much about the enigmatic fellow behind Death Spray Custom besides the fact that his given name is David Gwyther and he’s based in London, and his morbid moniker is simply “an identity that is used to front my adventures in surface design. It is intended to be a playful riposte to an often serious world of art, design etc.” Per the same interview with CycleEXIF last year, he’s “mostly self taught,” and contrary to McLuhan, he believes that “the medium isn’t the message, the painting part is a small fraction of the process. I’d like to add I’m not a bicycle painter by any means, just an artist who likes two wheels.”

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I’d known about his custom paint work for bicycles for some time, but true to his word, he comes up with wicked paint schemes for a variety of mostly speed-related objects—auto, helmets, tools, etc.—and executes them to dazzling effect. His portfolio is well worth a visit, from the Tool Box (featuring a slogan that is unprintable here) to a NASCAR-worthy Chevy Silverado and all variety of helmets and bicycle-related objets d’art.

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Salone Milan 2013: Triennale Explores The Syndrome of Influence

triennale2013_alessi.JPGAlessandro Mendini reflects the playfulness of Alessi in a miniature town set on a backdrop of futurist painter Gerardo Dottori’s work.

In this year’s deep-dive into Italian design history, Milan’s Triennale Design Museum staged The Syndrome of Influence a three-part exhibition asking contemporary designers to reflect and interpret the work of historic Italian designers and brands. Progressing from post-war Italian designers to the continued work of current Italian manufacturers, the exhibition’s emphasis was more on exhibition design rather than the showcase of specific objects.

triennale2013_zanuso.JPGZANUSO stamped aluminum plates litter the gallery floor.

Beginning with the period immediately following the second World War, curator Silvana Annicchiarico tapped and impressive roster of young Italian designers to create homages to the giants of post-war Italian design. Of the ten installations, which also included work by Martino Gamper/Gio Ponti, Italo Rota/Joe Colombo and Studio Formafantasma/Robert Sambonet, my favorite was from Blumerandfriends. In their installation for the editor, designer and architect Marco Zanuso, they ask attendees to push a button, a trigger that starts a short video loop on a television—soon a countdown clock starts up and the strange industrial box mounted on the wall lights up. An explosion of compressed air accompanies the expulsion of a thin sheet of stamped aluminum with the word ZANUSO. As aluminum plates mound on the floor of the exhibition, the critique is clear: although Zanuso and his contemporaries were huge proponents of industrial production as a means for creating a better world, the limits of this perspective are now quite clear.

triennale2013_ettoresottsass.JPGIn Alessandro Scandurra’s ode to Ettore Sottsass, Scandurra wallpapers a room with the boldness of Indian iconography. Focusing on Sottsass’ transformational experience in India, Sottsass projects a flash of totemic inspiration between stills of Sottsass’ work.

triennale2013_brunomunari.JPGMatilde Cassni and Francesco Librizzi’s tribute to Bruno Munari’s Useless Machines was a crowd favorite—attendees would traverse the room, hanging on rods, and becoming part of the installation.

triennale2013_vicomagistretti.JPGPaolo Ulian interprets the work of Vico Magistretti. The shadows on the wall assume the, “threadlike appearance” of Magistretti’s work.

triennale2013_robertssambonet.JPGStudio Formafantasma’s tribute Roberto Sambonet’s tableware and kitchenware.

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Ressence’s Super-Sexy Type 3 Watch

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At 30 large this isn’t a watch any of us mortals will be buying anytime soon, but the design of the Ressence Type 3 is fascinating enough that you’ll want to take a look. First off you’ll notice there’s no crown; all adjustments are made on the back of the watch, which is actually a series of concentric dials.

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As if that wasn’t cool enough, take a close look at the display:

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It practically looks like the graphics are projected onto that curved surface, no? Reading the description of how they pulled that off clues you in as to why the price tag is so lofty.

The indications and their mechanisms are mounted inside a bubble crafted from extremely tough, anti-reflective sapphire crystal. The complication and indications follow the shape of the crystal. The mechanism (28 gears, 57 jewels) is enclosed in an upper compartment filled with a naphtha-type liquid that has a more similar index of refraction to the sapphire crystal than air does. Refraction bends light when it passes from one material to another, e.g. air-to-glass or glass-to-air. With the fluid-filled dial indications, refraction is greatly minimised, which tricks the brain into seeing the dial in two-dimensions rather than three. A thermal valve automatically adjusts for any expansion or contraction of the fluid.

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Martin Missfeldt Graphic on How Google Glass Works

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Martin Missfeldt is a Berlin-based artist with a sense of humor, known for posting gags like asserting the Google Glass team is working on an X-ray-spec-like application (and that Apple is countering it with asbestos-lined underwear). However, Missfeldt has also released an earnest infographic showing “How Google Glass Works,” based on his study of both the patent and several write-ups.

The bulkiest parts are the battery riding on the right ear and the projector, though these things will presumably shrink over time. (On the battery front, have a look at LG Chem’s wire-like battery tech and UCLA’s developments in supercapacitors.) The image is bounced off of a prism and focused directly onto the wearer’s retina. Interestingly, the fine-tuning of the focus is apparently achieved in a primitive way: By physically adjusting the distance of the prism from the eye.

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“The biggest challenge for Google will now be to make the Google Glass also usable for people with normal glasses,” writes Missfeldt. That’s no trivial matter, as by his reckoning that’s more than 50% of the population in some countries; by your correspondent’s observation, countries like South Korea and cities like Hong Kong have an insanely high percentage of children wearing eyeglasses.

“In this case the Google Glass has to be placed ahead of normal glasses—which doesn’t [work well]. Or Google has to manufactor [sic] individual customized prisms, but this would be considerably more expensive than the standard production.”

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Click here to see the full-sized graphic.

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Conran Camera Concept, Yea or Nay?

ConranCamera-4.jpgAll images courtesy of BBC/Darren Russell

BBC Future recently invited Conran’s Jared Mankelow to rethink the camera for their series on “redesigning the everyday,” Imagineering, in which “top designers rethink common objects and offer 21st Century solutions.” The Senior Designer at Sir Terence’s venerable company did away with the screen-based interface, hearkening back to the “retro joys of analogue photography”—namely, “that old-school feeling of waiting for your photographs to be developed before seeing how they turned out.”

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Mankelow’s concept consists of a simple square, roughly the size of a Post-It pad, featuring a distinctive central aperture that serves as the lens and viewfinder, “with two rings at the front for the imaging sensors (black) and a ringflash (white).”

The square snapper may only be a mock-up—made by the UK’s Complete Fabrications—but it includes many of the attributes Mankelow would like in a finished product. Firstly there is the weight—the design’s reassuring heaviness harks back to the chunky character of models from the 1970s, when old-school film cameras arguably reached their golden age.

The lack of screen, of course, is the most radical departure from existing digital camera design. Noting the availability of wireless screens—smartphones, tablets, etc.—Mankelow has opted to relegate preview images to mobile devices via Bluetooth instead of in the camera itself. Not only does this add the element of surprise, as in film photography, but it also serves to reduce battery usage.

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FreeFly Systems’ ‘Game-Changing’ Camera Rig Designs

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FreeFly Systems is a company dedicated to designing camera-supporting tools that enable revolutionary cinematography. Their top-of-the-line product is probably their CineStar Heavy Lift, above, an eight-rotor flying camera platform; but it is their handheld MoVI M10 model, below, that is currently enjoying a press explosion.

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It’s easy to see why. The MoVI is a wicked piece of engineering, featuring a 3-axis gimbal that automatically, gyroscopically, digitally stabilizes the camera. Yet despite the presence of onboard motors, the thing operates completely silently and weighs less than 3.5 pounds. While a single person is meant to support it, shooting duties can also be split by having a second operator control the camera remotely via joystick. This frees the first operator up to focus on, for example, running or keeping a close eye on their footing on tricky terrain.

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MEX 2013: Will We Be Hearing More from Mobile Audio Interfaces?

digital-intern.jpgCould games like Papa Sangre pave the way for other mobile audio experiences?

The tech lovers at last week’s MEX Mobile User Experience conference in London were treated to all manner of fantastical visions of our further mobile empowered futures; big data, connected cars, smart homes, Internet of Things, gestural interfaces, personal mini-drones—the lot.

Few presentation this year will be complete without at least passing reference to the game changing nature or dystopian social implications of soon-to-be-unleashed Google Glass. Surprisingly, however, a couple of jaw-dropping demonstrations were enough to leave many of those attending wondering whether we might be missing a slightly quieter revolution taking hold. Could immersive audio be about to come of age in mobile user experience?

Having played second fiddle to the visual interface for decades, being so often the reserve of experimental art installations or niche concepts for the blind, audio has yet to find mass interaction application outside of alarms, alerts, ringtones and the occasional novelty bottle opener. All of this, however, could be set to change, if the two fields of binaural sound and dynamic music can find their way into the repertoire of interaction designers.

Binaural Audio Spatializes Interaction

Hardly a new phenomenon (though not always well known), Papa Sangre is regarded as the ‘best video game with no video ever made.’ Since it’s release back in 2011, the audio app game for iOS has been a hit with both the visually impaired and fully sighted. The game plunges players into a dark, monster-infested fantasy with only their ears to navigate the three dimensional underworld and rescue the damsel in distress. The incredible 3D sound effects are achieved with headphones and binaural audio—an effect that replicates the experience of hearing a sound-wave originating from a certain direction, hitting one ear before the other. Use of the screen is disconcertingly limited to only a rudimentary compass-like dial (determining the player’s virtual direction of movement) and two feet buttons, pressed to take steps into the darkness. Never has a computer game monster been so terrifying than when you can’t actually see it.

papasangre_screen2.pngIn the dark: screenshot of immersive audio game PapaSangre

The creators, London-based SomethinElse, developed the game by first mapping out the experiences of sound from hundreds of directions using a binaural microphone—a stereo mic the exact shape and density of a human head with pick-ups for ear drums. The algorithmic engine this produced could then be put to work transforming any ordinary mono audio into a spacialised, stereo output for listeners wearing headphones (with a fair dose of clever coding, of course).

MEX_binaural_mic.pngBinaural microphone with exact dimension and density as human head

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International Bicycle Design Competition 2013 Winners, Part 2

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Yesterday, we saw the first dozen honorees for iF Design TalentsInternational Bicycle Design Competition. The top ten selections were handsomely awarded for making the cut; here are the five ‘second place’ winners, who received 20,000 TWD (~$670) each for their efforts.

We also have some comments from the judges this time around—the submissions were reviewed by Henry Chang (Gearlab Co. Ltd., Taipei, Taiwan), Edward Chiang (Giant Bicycle, Taichung, Taiwan), Martin Kessler (Process Group, Zurich, Switzerland), Ishigaki Tetsuya (Toyo frame, Tokyo, Japan), Georg Todtenbier (Cre8 Design, Taipei, Taiwan) and Michael Tseng (Merida Bikes, Taichung, Taiwan).

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Frame 22 | Urban Bike with Bamboo Frame
Yu-Yuan Lai – Shih Chien University, Taipei, Taiwan

Frame 22 is an urban bike with bamboo elastic structure, completed with a bamboo-craft master. The shock absorber and handle bar stems are made of flexible bamboo, which reduces the vibration and maintains the flexibility of the bicycle. In order to enhance the power of back triangles, the bamboo structure extends from seat stay to chain stay. Bicycles are always cruising around in cities and the road bike is the best choice among all the alternatives for riding on concrete roads. Sometimes roads are cratered, and it is risky for bikers to dodge the holes; therefore, Frame 22 was created as an urban bike with light shock absorber, which offers a more comfortable riding experience to bikers.

What the judges had to say: “This is a fantastic combination of wood and steel. One of the judges would actually like to ride it.”

– I share the judge’s curiosity about how this actually rides. Interestingly, the cantilevered seatpost / extra-long seatstay design is actually quite similar to Yojiro Oshima’s recently-seen wooden bicycle.

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The Essence | One Bike – Two Riding Styles
Ming-Kang Chang – Shih Chien University, Taipei, Taiwan

This bike offers two different riding styles, fixed-gear [or] single-speed. To achieve this concept, the bike’s top tube and seat stays are replaced by thinner steel bars. There is a special rear hub that can turn in two modes: single-speed freewheel or single cog. The seat is also designed to be removed or assembled quickly to adapt easily to the way in which the rider wants to use it.

What the judges had to say: “The only difference in this special design lies in the carbon fiber frame using steel bars. It’s a good design that can actually work and reduce the total weight by 100-200 grams.”

– I was a bit baffled by this one, as I thought the skinny tubes were supposed to be tension cables. Frankly, I don’t understand how the fin-like ‘saddle’ works or if it has a shaft drivetrain… or, for that matter, how it converts between fixed and freewheel.

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Children’s Bike Seat
Martina Staub & Lisa Nissen – Fachhochschule Nordwestschweiz, Aarau, Switzerland

The design of this children’s bike seat focuses primarily on the aspects of safety and lightweight. The seat consists of two parts: the protective frame is made of fiberglass reinforced polypropylene. The cushion is a 3D mesh and is soft and protective at the same time. In the event of a sudden stop, the child is secured by the 5-point safety belt. The design of the frame provides optimum protection for the child’s head. The system includes a sleeping position and the footrests can be easily adjusted to virtually any position. If the seat is not in use, it can be used as a carrier. The taillights can be attached to the frame as desired.

What the judges had to say: “The design is very simple. People in Japan or other Asian countries would like to use this product. Regarding the design of the frame, the judges reckoned it can actually be made.”

– Seeing as I’m not a parent myself, I can’t speak to the functionality of this design, but I agree that it strikes me as among the more realistic, production-ready entries.

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A History of Braun Design, Part 2: Timepieces

A Sponsored Post on the History of Braun Design

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Every student of industrial design ought study Braun’s line of timepieces. The sheer variety and innovation, on both the design and technical fronts, that the company was able to inject into something as simple as a time-telling device is staggering; Braun was obsessing over minute bevels and visual clarity years before smartphone manufacturers sought to differentiate one glass rectangle from another. The ability to so resoundingly distinguish a small circle on your wrist from other offerings on the marketplace is a testament to Braun’s unrivaled championing of industrial design. Many of the objects they created have a quality of inevitableness to them, as if they had chipped away at all distractions and arrived at a universally perfect product, with nothing anyone could possibly add–or subtract–to improve them. Yet they continually updated their offerings for more than two decades, with a deep product line-up that would keep many a design curator busy.

On the subject of curation: The fact that every industrial design student does not study Braun’s timepieces is probably because no one has compiled a comprehensive record of all of them. While we attempt to address that here, there are many models that we missed for want of images or information. The line is simply too large, the rare models too elusive. But we hope this will provide you with some sense of the deep mark that Braun made on what was formerly a staid product category.

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braun-clock-03phase1-2.jpgImage courtesy of Das Programm, specialist sellers of Braun Design, 1955–1995

1971
phase 1
Dieter Rams, Dietrich Lubs

Braun’s first clock was the relatively primitive phase 1. Clearly a first effort, it gave no hint as to the breadth of design variety to come. It featured numbers printed on little plaques attached to a mechanical rotating mechanism. That being the case, the body was large while the numbers were small; a trade-off the designers would not be willing to live with for long.

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1972
phase 2
Dietrich Lubs

By 1972 they had switched over to a flip-clock mechanism, whose tighter mechanicals enabled a smaller form and a larger display. In the phase 2 we see the design team gaining mastery over the technology in order to improve the user experience. But they were not done yet; this form factor was still driven by its mechanical innards, which they would soon discard altogether. Cutting-edge technology was in the works for what would be their radical release of 1975.

braun-clock-05PHASE3.jpgImage courtesy of Sammlung Design

1972
phase 3
Dietrich Lubs

At the same time they put the phase 2 on the market, Braun also dipped into the analog clock pool, releasing this compact phase 3 alarm clock. It bears virtually nothing in common with the phase 1 and phase 2, despite being released at nearly the same time; but it illustrates the design team’s freedom to experiment, a characteristic Braun quality that would pay off time and again. The analog form factor would evolve into objects that collectors would treasure.

braun-clock-06FUNCTIONAL.jpgImage courtesy of Das Programm, specialist sellers of Braun Design, 1955–1995

1975
functional
Dietrich Lubs

By 1975 Braun’s gorgeous functional was ready to go. As the mechanicals were now supplanted by eletronics, it no longer featured bulky innards that needed to be stuffed into a box; Dietrich Lubs took full advantage of this, creating a clock comprised of two slim, intersecting components. The rear, horizontal portion houses the circuit boards and supports the buttons (which were raised, so they could be located in the dark). The front portion held the gas discharge display, which was angled upwards for easy legibility.

Also note the self-restraint: The sleek, black display with its slick red numbers would have looked cluttered with the white Braun logo, so instead the logo was moved behind the screen, to the top of the unit.

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