I was out in LA for most of last week at Siggraph (er, I gave two talks - one on social applications on the web and one on building mobile apps with ubiquitous tech). Anyway, kind of a weird scene for me since Siggraph is all about computer graphics (hardware + software + animation studios + special effects, etc). The conference was four days of standard exhibit hall stuff, people presenting research papers on things like "Wavelet Importance Sampling: Efficiently Evaluating Products of Complex Functions" and "Performance Animation From Low-Dimensional Control Signals" (read: over my head), but there was also an Emerging Tech exhibit, which was basically like an ITP Show Hall of Fame. (ps: I took this pic at a session called "Next-Gen Game Development Series").
I normally don't dork out on teendrama, but here are my four favorites from the show:
#1. Haptic Canoe. ("Haptic" meaning: you pull, computer pushes back). You sit in this canoe which is sitting on top of one projector screen and facing another screen. Two projectors fill the screens - one showing what's in front of you (the river landscape) and one showing what's beneath you (the water). You grab a broomstick-like contraption which is supposed to be an oar - but when you're holding it and you look down into the projected water, you actually see the image of an oar. And as your row, you see the oar mimicing your movements and eventually propelling you forward down the river. On top of that, the broomstick is connected to a series of pullys mounted above you (near the projectors) which provide you with resistance as you "pretend" to row the canoe. Very clever use of haptic controls tied to a real world object. (Also intereseting: the haptic hang gliding display that I did not get a chance to try out)
#2. Remote Controlled People. These guys from the NTT lab in Japan found that if you give people electric shocks behind their ears, you can upset their sense of balance (more technical description here). Don't ask me why I was so fired up to try this (and sign the "I will not hold NTT accountable" wavier), but I stood in line and watched as person-after-person was rigged up with special shocking headphones and then forced to walk (fall?) to the left or to the right depending on how this one guy was weildeing a giant remote control (think: Doc Brown driving the DeLorean in "Back to the Future"). I gave it a try and, yes, it worked and, yes, it hurt. I didn't make it through the whole demo - I actually had to remove the headphones during Act II (when they hook you up to a race car video game so you lean into the turns) because it hurt so much. Still, slick. (also see this Forbes article)
#3. LED Zeptrope Display. There is a cylinder with a diameter of about 2 feet that you can walk around. The entire cylinder is an LED screen that appears to work like a Zeotrope (you know, look through the spinning cyllinder and you can see the horse jumping or clown juggling or whatever). When you walk around the cyllinder, it is as if you are walking around the static video image but in 3D. It's a little hard to get from the crappy video, but the video shows a woman walking down a runway. If you were watching this on a normal display, the woman would always be in front of you (walking torwards you). With this display, if you walk clockwise around the cyllinder (as I am doing w/ the camera), it is as if you are walking clockwise around the model in the video.
#4: 3D Imaginary Friends. By far the coolest of the lot (and read this before watching the video). So, there's a toy box on the table which you are invited to push around. There's also a small screen connected to the table that shows a video of you pushing the box around. But, the screen also displays a 3D animation of these little elves (imagainary friends!) that are also trying to push the box around. And if you try to push the box while they are pushing on it, you'll feel them "pushing back". If left alone, the box will move in the direction that the elves are trying to push it, and if you interfere too strongly, you can actually push around (or even knock down) the elves as they are trying to do their work. This blew me away since as it's so well designed and executed. One of the coolest things I've seen in a while. (also see: official "Virtual Brownies" site)
ps: Honorable mention goes to the girls who were showing off a shared-annotation hack of Google Maps using Tablet PCs, the folks from Tokyo University with the Optical Camouflage (which I've been wanting to see for a while) and the RFID Murder Mystery (out of Parson's?).
Anyway, that's it from Siggraph. Oh, the talk went well (the Talk went better than the Panel), I didn't get to meet up w/ any friends from LA (sorry Nick Dever + Pete.S), I actually got a lot of dodgeball work finished up while using the free conference wi-fi and the XGames where going on right outside my hotel / convention center (I got to watch most of the street skate sessions).