Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Interactive projection walls and floors - chances to play & learn in aquariums

Below are 9 examples of interactive projection walls, floors and touch tanks. I collected them from the internet, with the selection criteria that they have applicability for use in aquariums. Therefore, most of them have an aquatic theme, are animal related, or are educational.
If you don't have time to view all nine examples,  just go to no.s1, 6 and  7 for the top of the bunch.

1st example: Touch Tank
Depending on the species, touch tanks can be controversial. But here is a touch tank that is politically correct.

Okay, it is not the same as a real touch tank, but the water simulation in this clip looks quite realistic, and with the right display (software) it could encourage learning. People can point to plastic bags floating in the water and remove them from a turtle's swim path. The possibilities are endless and the touch tank's layout encourages social interaction. 

Click on the link below to see another video of the same "touch tank" at a different location.

There is a mirror installed above and behind the touch tank in that location.
If there are large crowds - as shown in the photo below -
you can easily look over the shoulder of people in front of you.
The photo below shows the mirror more clearly.
click on photo to enlarge

2nd example: Touch Wall
This video shows an interactive projection device installed in an office space. The device tracks visitors walking by and translates the motion into ripples and waves along the screen. 
This could be nice (and expensive) along a boring aquarium hallway; as long as this technology is novel visitors will have a blast with it.

The sound in the video is quite impressive. In animated movies the sound is key to bringing the movie to life. The same holds true for these interactives. If you go this route, great sound effects are a must and will add a lot more fun to them. 
As you can see from the clip below: similar concept, even better graphics... but no sound.

3rd example: Touch Wall without sound
This touch wall was designed by q-bus Mediatektur, the company that also conceived the touch tank in the first example


Here a link to another hallway example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z3BJqSIK890
but without an aquatic theme. Playing time 6 seconds

4th example: Interactive floor
This example is from the Science of Survival exhibition at the Science Museum, London. The visitor can step in a pool with clown fish. The animation of the clown fish is good. Watch to the end to see a person stepping on the floor projection.

The text in the projection reads:
Of every 100 drops of water on earth:
97 are too salty too drink
2 are locked in ice
1 is fresh water 
I guess the point is, if someone is playing with the fish eventually that someone -or some bystanders- will read the text.

5th example: Interactive floor
Here is another floor projection where you step on the fish and the fish shoot off - not much to it, but I included it because of its aquatic theme.


I found another interactive floor but this time without a projection - it is an audio set up. It is located in a brightly lit mall space. The visitor moves on a patterned carpet and when the camera above registers that they are stepping on a certain area it activates a sound bite.  Check it out at the link below, it's worthwhile to see what other things are possible with floor animation.
I assume the circles are only for fun; as far as the technology is concerned no carpet or pattern is needed.
But this opens interesting possibilities for aquariums: What if there are dangerous fish lurking in your path? They could - half concealed  - either be woven in a custom carpet or simply painted on the floor,   and as the visitors step on them they activate a sound bite: a scream of pain, "you-are-dead" spoken text, etc.

6th example: Water Board
This three and a half minute clip is worth watching to the end. Or jump forward to the last quarter of the video to the see its educational potential and how visitors can interact with their all or parts of their bodies.

There is no jumping up and down or dancing going on - this is more brainy. But it looks like plenty of fun and many kids could interact with each other making a chain of body parts (like arms) where the water runs from one to the next. Or a parent is standing tall in the middle while the water splashes on the children to the right and left.

Mike Burton is the creator of the WaterBoard, which was a winner of the 2007 RSA Design Directions Award. As far as I know, it is only conceptual.
 ©2007 Mike Burton
The basic components are an opaque board measuring 2.2m x 8 m, four projectors and four cameras for back-projection and detection. The users can draw (or erase) lines to manipulate the water or use their limbs or whole bodies, to alter the water's flow.

I couldn't find much useful - let alone contact - information on Mike Burton; and the 2007/2008 web site of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce (RSA) didn't have further information.

7th example: Funky Forest
Click on the video link below to see some great interaction, graphic art, and lighting. 

Funky Forest - Interactive Ecosystem from Theo Watson .

Guests can manipulate the water on the floor and divert it towards the trees to make them grow. They can plant and grow trees by leaning against the walls. The overall design and lighting scenario is simply superb.
Children creating trees

The Funky Forest premiered first in Amsterdam a few years ago. In 2009 a permanent and updated version with seasons has been installed at the Moomah Children’s cafe in New York City, and also in 2010 in the Art Garden of the Singapore Art Museum. 
The design/artwork is outstanding. Here are more photos:

Emily Gobeille and Theodore Watson are the creators of the Funky Forest. They have collaborated on several projects, and many of them are worthwhile looking at from an aquarium-adaptation angle.
Don't miss
Knee Deep 
Vinyl Workout - this one only because it is another floor installation.

8th example: Interactive Aquarium - Call in with mobile
To quote Tom Vanderlin, the creator of the Interactive Aquarium:
"Using computer vision the seascape will react to the motion of a user, seaweed will sway and fish will scatter. Users can then dial in with any mobile device and create a fish using their voice. As they connect in realtime the sounds they make are analyzed and create a dynamically generated fish."
Carnival Interactive Aquarium from Todd vanderlin
The illustrations were again created by Emily Gobeille.

9th example: 3D mapping
If you don't want to watch the whole video (2.5 minutes) just watch the opening scene for the 3D effect and then jump to the1:00 minute mark to see some cool aquatic effects.


Here is a link to a news report about it:
and more information on what the future will bring here:

The 3D effect is somewhat lost on my 2D screen. From the reaction of the bystanders in the news features it must be highly convincing.

Summing it up
There is no doubt that interactivity will play a larger roll in aquariums - and in zoos - and in our life in general.  Touch screens, and motions sensors, and call-in-with-your-cell phone technologies are here to stay. The question is: what is the price tag - and how much value do you get for it in return in terms of increased revenue or attendance, conservation, entertainment, or education?

Technology in zoos and aquariums is frail and transient - I have seen several high-tech installations come and go during repeat visits to various institutions over the last fifteen years. As long as these devices are a novelty they will engage the visitors, and they have the potential to be fantastic education, entertainment, and conservation devices.

The novelty-factor made me wonder how easy it is to update the content, especially if your institution is frequented by many repeat visitors. How difficult is to keep the content fresh? On Theodore Watson's website I found the link to Openframe work.
The video is over six minutes - jump ahead to the 4:00 minute mark and watch it from there to get the basic idea.

made with openFrameworks from openFrameworks.

For information on the openframeworks visit their website: http://www.openframeworks.cc/
While you are there check out their gallery http://www.openframeworks.cc/gallery for other cool stuff - not necessarily aquarium related.
If your art or graphic department can manage your institution's website it might be able to handle this software and rejuvenate any content in-house, thus stretching the lifespan of these installations.
But of course you may also be able to outsource it. Click on this link to see an example:

Whenever aquariums stray away from their core business (animals/nature) they run the risk of competing with non-animal institutions (like science museums, natural history museums or commercial endeavors with deep pockets). As you can see for yourself on this  last link   http://www.projectionadvertising.co.uk/

Speaking of advertising, if this technology interested you I recommend my previous blog entry where I show an example of an interactive wall screen in an aquarium.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Kids burning off energy: Where to play in aquariums (Part 2)

In my last post I wrote about the necessity for aquariums to provide play areas with every exhibit, or at least within every exhibit gallery, so that kids can let out their extra energy.
I only showed what was simple, low tech and of moderate size.

In this entry I want to present an item that is great for play and being active, but is high tech: interactive wall (or floor) projection technology.
The example I chose is from the Aquamarine Fukushima Aquarium in Japan. The aquarium opened in 2000 and ten years later it added a new exhibition area. This addition is geared towards kids. (I already wrote about its spiny lobster exhibit and cushioned play area in previous entries.)

Next to the cushioned play area are interactive projection walls that allow children (ages 3 to 99) to manipulate a projected image on the wall through their own movement.
Below two girls are jumping in front of the wall to manipulate the projected images.

This is better explained by the video clip below. 13seconds

Or, here is an example from the Orlando Airport in Florida, that shows this technology in action with an aquatic touch 14-second clip

Back to the Aquamarine Fukushima aquarium:

I liked how active the kids were in front of the screens. 

I liked the set up that children can manipulate the projection of a jelly fish and then observe the real thing in the tank adjacent to the screen. You can see their dad, who seconds ago was waving his arms in front of the screen, now taking a closer look at the jelly tank in the background

I also like that these screens are easy to dismantle to make room for a fish tank. Which could happen in the near future, because...
Technology in zoos and aquariums is often faster outdated than one can install it. These interactive walls (also available as floor projections) are becoming increasingly common at airports and malls, and are often used in connection with advertisement.Nintendo's Wii, with its handheld pointing device that detects movement, is not far off from the motion screen technology and has already made it into kids' homes.
So how do you top that or make it more novel? Do you want to or need to? Wouldn't it be better - in the long run - to stick to your core business?

However skeptical I am about putting resources towards technology, I was impressed when I saw the children dancing in front of the two projections, burning off energy, and having fun! - It worked great.

On the video clip above the screen is round, in the foreground and part of the yellow wall.
There is a fish tank directly underneath it - bringing the fish back into the picture. (I was wondering, does this hand-waving and jumping up and down of the visitors provide any enrichment/entertainment for the fish?).

The photo below is giving you an overview of the layout of the space: the round screen on the right with the discus tank underneath, and a jelly tank on the left with two projection screens beyond.

Interactive motion screens at the Aquamarine Fukushima (click on photo to enlarge)
Next to these motion projection screens is a cushioned play area with several fish exhibits, which I presented in the previous entry. I venture to predict that the play area will still be fun five years from now, but the motion screens won't; they will have been replaced with the next cool thing.
But again, for now they are fun and good examples for letting out some energy indoors with the entire family.

In case you want to find out more about these interactive devices I've included a few links below.
1. A company that manufactures interactive motion screens

 2. A blog that discusses this - and similar - technology: "Interactive Multimedia Technology"