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Convergent Media and the DIY Home of the Future
Jon Lebkowsky, 25 Oct 07
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Earlier this month I wrote a column about a DIY (Do It Yourself) home showcase I was helping to create for Maker Faire Austin. Here's more of the story and a report on our success.

Derek Woodgate of Futures Lab and I have been meeting regularly over the last couple of years to consider the prospect of doing a showcase, which we've been calling "Futurama," that would give some sense of the impact of digital convergence on lifestyles in the near future. We'd considered doing it at various conferences, such as South by Southwest Interactive and Innotech, but when we heard that Maker Faire -- an offshoot of Make Magazine, the bible of the DIY movement -- would be coming to Austin, we saw that as an ideal opportunity. Maker Faire brings diverse people together who make things – many kinds of things – and who want to show their stuff and share their knowledge and practice with other makers.

You might not think this would be the ideal context for a futurist showcase, but we saw the creative chaos of the first couple of Maker Faires in California, and knew the guys at Make would be receptive. Sure enough, Dale Dougherty, publisher of Make Magazine and the lead on Maker Faire, totally got our high-level concept: we were inspired by the famous "Futurama" exhibit and ride at the 1939-40 World's Fair in New York, which took visitors on a tour of the world 20 years into the future. While this Futurama featured visions of suburbia and superhighways, our effort for Maker Faire would be the "DIY Home of the Future," a concept that worked well as a representation of the convergent future, and as a manifestation of several converging paths in Derek's recent thinking. We saw our effort, while not quite so grand as the World's Fair exhibit, as the first of many -- allowing time to pave the way to our vision of Tomorrowland.

In his research for various companies and projects, Derek has gathered material about different aspects of the home of the future, from which he has derived three general attributes:

  • Immersive. The home of the future is a platform for both ambient and focused converged media. According to Derek, the key elements are "seamless , multi-sensory engagement and the opportunity to share, collaborate, connect, explore and grow. Immersive environments, use augmented reality to take such experiences to new highs, by enabling the user to extend the "Self" and his /her personal potential. It allows us to achieve deeper understanding of our sub- and unconscious through emotional and cognitive interfaces to reach what we call the "Sense Event" - a harmony of our sensory energy with total engagement."
  • Responsive. One possible future is personified in SARAH (Self Actuated Residential Automated Habitat), the smart house of the future on the SciFi Channel's "Eureka." SARAH is a responsive home – in fact, she's quirky, and she talks back... but she's also aligned with Derek's vision of the responsive home as "one in which the living space is sensitive to one's needs, personalized to the user's requirements, anticipatory of the behavior and responsive to the person's presence, in order to improve one's quality of life, overall." It "leverages ambient intelligence and socially- and context-aware smart sensors in order to optimize and augment the living conditions and environment."

  • Reconfigurable. The reconfigurable home "consists of walls and devices that respond to sound, light, touch, footsteps, smell, phone calls, mp3 players and even distant remotely connected spaces. Both the physical and the ambient elements can be changed by means of sensor and actuator systems, spatial robots, LEDs, sound and other integrated networks.... New architectural experiments are investigating how one might construct an interactive environment that builds up an internal representation of its occupants through a network of autonomous but communicative sensors, so that the home may better represent the user's emotional, physical and cognitive state."

For Maker Faire, we focused on immersive media. Front and center we placed Brian Park's Flogiston Chair, which was designed "based on the idea that you didn't need a body in cyberspace, just a presence, so the chair was a place to leave your body" (it was featured in the film "Lawnmower Man"), with a curved rear projection screen for gaming. We projected a high definition, high-intensity Xbox game as part of the demonstration. In addition, David Demaris, the wizard who did much of the actual production work, brought in a massive screen and combined ambient music with visuals that could be manipulated by moving one's hands over sensors -- a kind of visual theremin.

To give a sense of the potential for interaction between the digital environment and mind/body, we ran a demonstration of Wild Divine's "Healing Rhythms" biofeedback software, a system that includes several guided meditations with audiovisual environments that you manipulate by controlling your own physiology, with heart rate and skin response sensors attached to your fingers.

The DIY aspect of this rests partly in the control you, as the occupant, have over configuring digital systems as well as physical architecture, and partly in the sense that you can (re)invent yourself as you reconfigure your environment.

Our DIY House of the Future isn't too far out from current reality. There's already a proliferation of large screen, high-definition displays in the consumer electronics market -- and they're getting cheaper -- so whole-wall displays aren't hard to imagine. Embedded sensor networks are the wave of the very near future. The immersive game environment Derek and I suggested would be relatively easy to build and market, and it drew enthusiastic crowds at Maker Faire (it helped to have game play in the mix).

The Robot Group was just downstairs from our location on the second floor of the Travis County Exposition Center's Arena. Next year, we'll invite Bender from that other "Futurama.

Photo: Gaming with the Flogiston Chair. Photo by Jon Lebkowsky.

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Comments

I'm not entirely sure how this article fits in with the worldchanging 'bright green' ethos. The idea of a highly-computerised, intelligent house which provides responsive comfort for the occupant seems like an unnecessary first-world luxury, which would consume an awful lot of energy. This is what we're trying to move away from, right?

Although the 'Sense Event' idea does sound interesting, it too seems like a luxury - like a computerised drug trip. It appears to be too theoretical and not pragmatic enough - how would this wonderful technology actually help us as a society?


Posted by: Mike on 26 Oct 07

Glad that you asked - we don't run every post through a "bright green" filter, but it's fair to ask wheher a subject is relevant to the general focus of WC.

Prominent in our conversations, though less relevant to the DIY aspect we were focusing on for Maker Faire, was the prospect of powerful energy management and sustainability features, and off-the-grid energy generation. We assume a much higher degree of energy efficiency overall than you have in current homes. We also assumed that the technologies were were envisioning would be pervasive and low-cost, and that living spaces would be smaller, more efficient, and more densely distributed. I'll cover the sustainability aspect in another column.


Posted by: Jon Lebkowsky on 26 Oct 07

"I'm not entirely sure how this article fits in with the worldchanging 'bright green' ethos. The idea of a highly-computerised, intelligent house which provides responsive comfort for the occupant seems like an unnecessary first-world luxury, which would consume an awful lot of energy. This is what we're trying to move away from, right?"


Yes, but 1 actualy solves the other.

Taken to the logical extreme, Augmented Reality can replace a heck of a lot of material goods.
Convergance can replace a dozen resource intensive devices with just 1.

Sure, that 1 thing might be a bit more resource intensive then 12, but it wont be 12 times!

AR technology can really save mankind.


Posted by: darkflame on 27 Oct 07

> AR technology can really save mankind.

I wasn't going to go quite that far, if only because I know there's forces at work that would be happy to make AR more like television.


Posted by: Jon Lebkowsky on 27 Oct 07



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