Ars Electronica 2002
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'Pascal Maresch Pascal Maresch

The Ars Electronica Futurelab began in 1996 as an experiment in conjunction with the Ars Electronica Center, and has since established itself as an atelier and R&D laboratory. The approach that is key to this work—one that lives up to what is called for in an artistic mode of going about developing infrastructure and creative content, and, for precisely this reason, also satisfies the demands of commercial clients (research facilities, exhibition organizers, the entertainment industry, etc.)—is spotlighted in the following run-downs on the Futurelab’s production processes.

On the occasion of the 2001 Ars Electronica Festival, the first open-lab presentations were transferred to a new location. (1) The adaptation work created an architecture designed for openness and to satisfy the spatial demands of a software development lab, media studio and prototype construction workshop. The new working environment enables the staff to take a flexible approach to the specific demands of each respective project without having to abandon the Ars Electronica Futurelab’s unorthodox but tried-and-true working methods. The way in which R&D on a PC-CAVE(TM) solution proceeded is a typical example of research undertakings that have been initiated in the Futurelab and have subsequently led to wide-ranging improvements to computer solutions that were in use at the time to perform specific tasks in a variety of different fields.

Motivated by the desire to facilitate artists’ access to elaborate VR systems, the Futurelab began at a very early stage to seek ways to replace extremely costly hardware components with PC technology. Our private-sector associate, voestalpine Industrieanlagenbau GmbH (VAI), in turn, was interested in a system that would enable its staff to carry out research projects in-house that they previously had been able to conduct only at a great cost of time and effort using the Ars Electronica Center’s infrastructure. The Futurelab staff finally succeeded in coming up with a solution based on Linux clusters that made it possible to create a platform to enable users in both cultural and industrial fields to carry out projects that had previously been hardly to afford. The Onyx replacement developed in collaboration with the Department of Business Computing (Prof. Gustav Pomberger, occupant of the Chair for Software Engineering) of the Johannes Kepler University of Linz, VAI, VRCO Inc. and the Laboratoire d’Informatique d’Orléans provided a starting point. At the same time the Futurelab developed the structure of the ARS BOX (2), whose functionality surpasses that of the original CAVE(TM) model. It is possible to stereoscopically play projection surfaces with up to 64 screens in the classical CAVE(TM) configuration, independently of each other, or as a panorama (VR dome, curved surfaces).

The ARS BOX will introduce VR applications into totally new contexts—for instance, into the telematic working environments that the Ars Electronica Futurelab has been designing as part of its Future Office Project, an effort to develop and test prototypes for the workplace of the future. As a follow-up to the “Future Office Table,” an additional component will be presented this year—the VR Flip Chart (3) that contains a high-performance stereoscopic VR system with an integrated projection surface in addition to its array of technical features to support conferences and seminars. The VR Flip Chart, which is not that much larger than its analog counterpart, was developed in collaboration with Scott Ritter, one of the Ars Electronica Futurelab’s long-time associates who has repeatedly been called upon to come up with solutions to challenging architectural and design problems. The versatility of the ARS BOX was a precondition for the use of the system in other areas in which the Ars Electronica Futurelab is working. Interactive Physical Space is the name of the group that specializes in the conception and design of interactive exhibition environments. Specifically, there is an ARS BOX currently in use on the exhibition level at the Future Center Innsbruck (FCI) (4) that opened in March 2002. With the infrastructure and the ARS BOX in place there, the FCI can offer its visitors presentations of CAVE(TM) applications, and thus joins the exclusive group of institutions (ICC Tokyo (5) and the AEC to name two) featuring publicly accessible CAVEs(TM). All processing tasks including the projection of the respective content onto the individual display screens are carried out by a wireless handheld PC developed by the Ars Electronica Futurelab as part of the Palmist Project. (7) The interface was designed to permit inexperienced users to interact with individual applications or even to be able to present their own workshop results. Moreover, the collaboration with the FCI went beyond the development of this infrastructure. The Ars Electronica Futurelab was also assigned the task of coming up with an exhibition concept to provide the general public with a picture of the future of work. The experience gained and contacts made in connection with the Festival and as a development laboratory for the Museum of the Future make the Ars Electronica Futurelab a leading source of expertise for cultural managers from all over the world who are confronted with questions dealing with interactive exhibition concepts and installations. Thus, Futurelab staffers collaborating with international artists worked out a concept that thematicized not only the influence of technological innovation on the world of work but also the peripheral changes engendered by the progressive blurring of the boundary between labor and leisure. The projects contextualized in the exhibition environment include those developed expressly for the exhibition concept as well as independent works by international artists—for example, Brainball by the Smart Studio group and Smallfish by Masaki Fujihata. An additional form of collaboration with artistic producers is the joint development of works carried out by combining the working methods of individual artistic personalities with the Futurelab’s own approaches. In the framework of the Artist-in-Residence Program, the Ars Electronica Center attempts to create conditions conducive to the realization of selected art projects. This year, the Futurelab supported artist Johannes Deutsch in developing Gesichtsraum, (8) a CAVE(TM) environment based upon his “walkthrough images” whose (visual) composition represents the world of feelings of an individual.

To accomplish this, Deutsch’s graphic raw material was viewed in test applications directly in the CAVE(TM) at the Ars Electronica Center, modified by the artist, and optimized by 3-D specialists to enhance the spatial effect.

The artist and Futurelab developers conferred and worked out a concept that represented the best possible correspondence to the basic artistic intentions while taking technological feasibility into account. The technical implementation of the expressive reactions of the “face space” called for developments in the area of CAVE(TM) programming on the visualization level and the creation of a visual vocabulary to enable interaction.

This project is the first in a series of research undertakings for which Johannes Deutsch and scientific theoretician and psychoanalyst Patrizia Giampieri-Deutsch are designing a prototypical project on the synergy of art, science and technology.

Besides developments intended for artistic ends, the Ars Electronica Futurelab also pursues research work in cooperation with private enterprises and academic institutions. A current example is the INSTAR (9) (Information and Navigation Systems Through Augmented Reality) research project. Following many years of successful collaboration over the course of various different VR projects (including the 3-D enhancement of the Hybrex simulator for fine steel rolling mills and its adaptation for the CAVE(TM), a result presented at the international “Metals and Metallurgy” fair in Peking (10)), Siemens CT approached the Department of Business Computing (Prof. Gustav Pomberger, occupant of the Chair for Software Engineering,) of the Johannes Kepler University of Linz and the Ars Electronica Futurelab with the aim to create a VR application that would be of interest to the general public. During joint brainstorming sessions, the idea of INSTAR was born. The development work is being carried out by a network of cooperating partners.

INSTAR is a unique new approach to navigation systems (for instance, in autos) that goes beyond conventional two-dimensional visualizations and utilizes augmented reality. In order to accomplish this, a monitor on the driver’s instrument panel displays a real-time video image from the driver’s perspective that is overlaid with graphic route recommendations that help the driver to navigate in intuitive fashion. The decisive advantage is that the driver’s view of the monitor does not force him to take his eyes off the road, and he sees the route to his destination marked in color on a depiction of reality (live video). This special technology makes it possible not only to display suggested routes but also to integrate a wide variety of additional information into the video image. The software framework developed in cooperation with the other project participants delivers the necessary preconditions for the deployment of augmented reality technologies in specific fields of application. Current efforts are focused on the development of Hidden Worlds, the new theme exhibition in the Ars Electronica Center that is being realized in collaboration with guest artists Golan Levin and Zachary Lieberman.

Translated from the German by Mel Greenwald

new location: futurelab.aec.at/new_lab back

ARS BOX: futurelab.aec.at/arsbox back

VR-Flip Chart: futurelab.aec.at/vrflipchart back

FCI Exhibition: www.zukunftszentrum.at/mediathek/mediathek1.php back

ICC Tokyo: www.ntticc.or.jp/ back

“Cave” by Peter Kogler: futurelab.aec.at/kogler

Palmist Project: futurelab.aec.at/palmist back

“Gesichtsraum”: futurelab.aec.at/gesichtsraum back

INSTAR: futurelab.aec.at/instar back

Siemens—Hybrex: futurelab.aec.at/hybrex back