NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program Winter Show 2009

As has become habit over the past couple of years, this past week I headed over to the NYU Interactive Telecommunications Program Winter Show. ITP is a graduate program started by Red Burns with a mission to “explore the imaginative use of communications technologies — how they might augment, improve, and bring delight and art into people’s lives.” While not as robust as last year’s Spring Show (due to the fact that the Spring show is often a display of many of the grad students’ master theses), the Winter Show definitely lived up to ITP’s vision of producing imaginative uses of tech.  I’ll share some of my favorite projects.

As would be appropriate, the first project on display when you walked into the show was ITP Guest Book, a web project meant to be accessed via an iPhone or iPod Touch that helped show goers leave comments on specific projects and navigate the space via a built in map and project categorization system.  While I loved the concept, I didn’t really find myself utilizing the app, preferring to organically navigate the space and save my commenting for the blog, where I could leverage a bit more of a hindsight view of things.

Many of the show’s projects were less utilitarian of course, with a whole slew that fell on the more artistic side of the technological spectrum.  My absolute favorite in the arts category was tek(s)nesonic, which featured a projected screen which captured those that walked in front of a camera and then mapped falling letters and numbers (which viewers could enter themselves) into the image, each of which were associated with different sound samples.  People who found themselves in the frame could then interact with the falling characters, “catching” them and activating the associated sounds.  I found myself delighted when a P would land on my shoulders and start beeping until I moved and it continued to fall.  Ingenious.

Also featured in the “delightful interactive art” category was Dynamic Ground, which featured some neato “floor tiles” which expanded and contracted when stepped on.  Could definitely see this as an incredible museum installation in which an entire room’s floor shifted and danced, so to speak, in response to people’s movement.  Check it out below. (video courtesy of the project’s creators)

On the more serious side of things, the ITP show often features projects with a political or pro-social bent, and my favorite of these was called The Bed, which was a dynamic data visualization of conflicts around the world. Faux blood would drip down onto a projected map of the world in places where conflicts are occurring, or, at least, in places where the media has decided to report on conflict.  The “drips” were based on feeds from news organizations that were pulled into and analyzed by a semantic computer program that looked for words associated with conflict.  I didn’t get to watch it develop over time, seeing it at the very beginning of the show when it started creating its visualization, but even then there were already multiple conflict zones mapped in the Middle East, with only one in all of Africa.  I think the project really portrayed well how perceptions of global conflict are shaped (and skewed) by a news media that is highly selective and not necessarily fully representative of events happening across the globe.

One project that particularly spoke to me was another data visualization (these types of projects were definitely well represented at the show) not of geopolitics but rather of energy use.  It was called Energy Informatics, and the goal of the project was to make tangible how energy usage changes over time in the places most relevant to us: our residences.  Using  NYU residence halls as an example, the visualization overlaid a translucent color map onto a real image of the building.  The color map would change over time representing how energy usage in the halls went up and down over the course of the day.  I definitely think that this type of visualization will become increasingly important over time.

The final project I’ll share which struck my fancy was called Online|Offline ChessGame.  I mainly loved it because it was a new take on an old idea: correspondence chess.  In the project, each of the players uses a physical chess pieces and board just as they would in a standard game, but one that was modified to allow for play at a distance.  The board would indicate what moves an opponent is making, allowing a person to move those pieces to maintain a physical setup of where the game is at.  As the possibility of chess play over a distance became more viable than ever with the advent of the internet, much of the physicality of the game was lost with people playing on screens.  I’m all for technology that allows us the advantages that advanced telecommunications makes possible, without the need to sit and stare at a screen for hours.

Overall, some really great projects at the show.  Congrats to all the participants.

See here, and below, for my full photoset from the show.

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Rafi in thailand, smiling

If you're reading this, then you've reached the web log of Rafi Santo. This is my little slice of the internet where I can share my passion (or whatever) with the world.

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