This weekend we held the first OpenBCI (Brain Computer Interface) hackathon at ThoughtWorks. We went from Saturday morning to Sunday night working on challenges of design, community, hardware and software.
|Conor Russomanno gives a crash course in EEG at the hackathon|
OpenBCI are Conor Russomanno and Joel Murphy. These guys are serious about lowering the barrier of entry to research-grade EEG. Commercial sets like Neurosky do this but tie your hands in the process. OpenBCI is about making a viable open source alternative.
|Aisen Caro poses with a headcap|
We had four sets of caps and hardware, and over the course of the two days different volunteers wore the gear so that we could test on real people.
Here's a short video of Joel demoing the application of a cap.
There was a good buzz of excitement and energy and we would definitely host an OpenBCI hackathon again. Looking forward to the next one.
- Brain-Computer Interface
- Joel Murphy
- Conor Russomanno
- Hardware Hack Lab
- Aisen Caro
Posted Friday, 8 November 2013
Some more info on the lab:
The Volumetric Lab at CultureHub is an open source, member driven community dedicated to exploring 3D interactive software and hardware. Artists, innovators, and educators engage with interactive motion sensing technologies such as the Kinect and other depth sensing cameras to produce an array of research and experimental art projects. Participants are strongly encouraged to formulate projects with the open source philosophy in mind. We believe that free distribution and access to project development promotes innovation and empowerment.
Posted Wednesday, 30 October 2013
This post explores iBeacons. It may have been announced only quietly, but it is going to have a big impact on how we perceive computing, and on the so-called Internet of Things.
iBeacons technology is being promoted as a service, particularly for innovative brick-and-mortar retailers to differentiate via micro-location, context-aware apps and analytics. However the technology has an equally powerful reductive effect on privacy, for those who choose not to be conscientious and self-impose limits.
This post focuses on the technology. I'll be covering what an Estimote Beacon is, what other types of Beacons there are, and how you can make your own. I'll go on to talk about how iBeacons is giving NFC a run for it's money.
|The Estimote Beacon elevator pitch|
This post also disassembles the overloaded term iBeacon, which can be a little confusing at first when you hear it used to describe many different pieces of a larger puzzle.
A Word on Privacy
I've focused mostly on technology in this article, but I want to take a moment to comment on privacy. iBeacons make it possible to easily engage with people in a physical space via their mobile devices. But part of what will make the experience so compelling is the ability to triangulate the precise physical position of each participant. And as long as the person has Bluetooth enabled and your app installed, it will be possible to do this without their permission.
The old adage fits here, that just because you can do a thing doesn't mean you should do a thing. Permission is key. It's not just on moral grounds, but on grounds of building trust. If I enter into a space where beacons are active, I want to be told what value I can expect, and what data I am giving away to get that value. Once I opt in, I am engaged. If I choose not to opt in that should be respected.
There is also a distinction between using real-time data and storing real-time data. But ultimately this technology is out there right now, and people are going to start using it. We must be aware of privacy concerns and go ahead and learn about the technology. That's what this article is for.
What is an Estimote Beacon?
An Estimote Beacon is a device made by a Polish company that utilizes a newly-available mode in Bluetooth called Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). Later in this article I will describe the iBeacons service on your phone, and alternative Beacon services, but first let's focus on the now well-promoted Beacon called Estimote, and the interactions it can provide.
In the picture below, the Estimote Beacon is broadcasting using BLE. The phone receives the broadcast information over it's own BLE, and the beacon-enabled app recognizes the user's proximity to the beacon. In this case, the beacon is positioned near a bar, and the user is offered a discount on a favorite drink. The favorite drink is identified by the user's purchase history, retrieved via the app.
As the name infers, BLE communicates in a similar manner to regular Bluetooth, but consumes much less power, meaning that the Estimote Beacon can run for 2 years on a tiny coin battery. If your phone supports BLE, and Bluetooth is enabled, beacon-enabled apps can work out your proximity to a beacon. If there are several beacons, the app can use the relative strength of the beacon signals to work out your precise location. The app can use this information to send push notifications and deliver context-relevant experiences to your phone.
|An iPhone connecting to an Estimote Beacon|
The canonical example is a retail store and merchandise stands. When people enter a space or visit certain stands they can be sent targeted information - text and small images, or linked to online rich media such as video or sound. This could be promotions, coupons, recommendations, marketing or informational content, and if there is an app running on the shopper's device and they are logged in, this can be personalized.
There can also be mashups, for example the micro-location equivalent of Google Maps. Users can search for a particular item and be guided to it's precise location, across the shop floor, up the elevator and so on. Ultimately, this is an early-stage technology and the possibilities are open.
|Potential retail applications for iBeacons|
There is also the possibility for those with logged-in accounts to have contactless payment on leaving the store, since we know exactly when users are leaving. More on an alternative way of doing that with a PayPal dongle below.
One other feature which will be coveted by many retailers is the ease with which you will be able to track visitor's precise movements through a store. This brings web-style analytics that much closer to physical retail, as we are able to get quantitative data on more and more details of people's interactions with store merchandise.
As discussed earlier use of this feature should be approached openly and in an opt-in fashion. Notice the people in the 'Proximity Marketing' section of the image above? These interactions should be handled delicately.
What is/are iBeacons?
Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), mentioned earlier, is part of the Bluetooth Specification 4.0 (aka Bluetooth Smart). This flavour of Bluetooth is now available on many phone and tablet devices, and has been baked quietly into iOS7. Most new devices will be BLE compatible:
"The majority of new devices entering the market, including the HTC One, Nokia Lumias, Samsung Galaxy Nexus and the Blackberry Z10 and Q10, among others, are all BLE compatible. In terms of iOS devices, the iPhone 4S and above, the iPad with Retina display and the iPad mini are all BLE compatible."
Source - Mubaloo
This feature of Apple devices and the services that go with it have been named iBeacons, in classic Apple 'iThing' style. But the term iBeacon has become overloaded. I have seen it used in the following contexts:
- a generic term for a physical beacon in real space, such as an Estimote Beacon
- the software platform in iOS7 which allows Bluetooth 4.0 hardware to use BLE and talk to beacons
- the overall service, including the two cases above as one (referred to plurally as iBeacons)
And that's just with iOS, where the term originated.
Who else is in this Space?
Following closely behind Apple are Android equivalents to all of the above, and many times the naming includes the term iBeacon in a me-too fashion. Radius Networks, a start-up out of Washington D.C. offer physical iBeacons ($99), and an Android SDK to allow developers to write apps for compatible devices, which they refer to as the Android iBeacon Service.
The physical iBeacons by Radius are just a customized Raspberry Pi, which tells you something about the nature of the service - all you need to get going with this is a Bluetooth 4.0 dongle and something to run free software on.
PayPal have a strong presence in this space, having developed a Beacon-as-USB-dongle. You guessed it, this is just a Bluetooth 4.0 dongle for a retailer's laptop, with some bundled PayPal software. From a customer's perspective:
"By checking in to a store à la Foursquare (you can even configure the app check you into places automatically), that retailer has access to the funds in your PayPal account and you can pay for your items directly with that money. It's proximity-based, so you do have to be physically present at the store. The security check happens when the retailer is shown a picture of your face to make sure that you're who you say you are. With that confirmed, your total purchase is deducted from your PayPal account."
Source - Business Insider
And there is one more iBeacon. It's a phone accessory on kickstarter which was unfortunate enough to have labeled all their hardware with the iBeacon name. And has just had that name usurped...
What are Virtual Beacons?
An Estimote Virtual Beacon is a free iOS app that turns your iWhatever into an iBeacon using it's existing BLE hardware (app released Sep 19). With it, you can set up one iPhone as an iBeacon, position it, and use it to track another. A whole iPhone is a bit heavy to serve as just a beacon, but it's useful for testing and playing with the SDK.
Of course, hot on the heels is an Android version (Oct 17), called iBeacon Locate, also by Radius Networks. To use these apps your phone will need to support Bluetooth 4.0, as described above. In the case of Android, this means you will need to be running Android 4.3.
You can also run an iBeacon on a virtual machine, although I'm not sure yet why you would want to do that...
What are the Implications for NFC and RFID?
NFC is RFID's younger cousin, which offers contactless payment and data exchange at short (4cm-ish) distances. Apple stalled for a long time when it comes to including NFC reader hardware on their devices, to the frustration of NFC advocates. On the other hand, many Android devices support NFC and for a while there was a question as to why Apple wasn't jumping on board.
But RFID is bigger and more established than NFC. And it does things that iBeacons doesn't do. Humans may carry phones but physical objects don't! In-store merchandise, warehouse stock, any physical objects will be better served by RFID tags. Merchandise tracking is still a key area for RFID, and that translates in-store too. When I pick up a shirt and carry it to a changing room, this interaction will not be visible to any iBeacon.
If you want to use technology to offer participants a full experience including smart interactions with objects beyond localized areas like merchandising stands, you may want to consider a mixed solution involving RFID and iBeacons.
- Total Space
- Estimote Beacon
Posted Wednesday, 2 October 2013
I've been attending the newly-formed Volumetric Lab weekly since the RGBDToolkit workshop got me started with depth video. It's a fun and experimental workshop run by Volumetric Society's Ellen Pearlman and CultureHub's S.O. O'Brien.
|Showing Study: Existential at CultureHub NYC (credit)|
The lab's initial run culminated with the kick-off party for the new Volumetric Society season for 2013/14 yesterday. It was a great event with high energy and a confident feel. We put out a call to other artists and tinkerers who might want to attend the Sunday lab.
You can check out and find more about the video I showed at the event here.
Chris Burke - This Spartan Life
Also showing work was Chris Burke, who I later discovered was the creator of This Spartan Life, a TV-style talk show shot realtime by characters in the space of a functioning online Halo game.
|This Spartan Life: Episode 1|
In the first video we find out some of the pitfalls of shooting a talk show in a space where people are actively trying to kill each other! We also see the show debut of The Solid Gold Elite Dancers, five players in the game showing their synchronized dance routine.
Videos of the show have recently been uploaded to Youtube, and I highly recommend checking it out!
- Volumetric Lab
- Chris Burke
- This Spartan Life
- Volumetric Society
- Ellen Pearlman
Posted Monday, 23 September 2013
Wow! Just had to share this for all of you struggling with the RGBDToolkit calibration process.
I just remounted my depth sensor to my camera, and re-ran the correspondence calibration. It failed completely - a total fail. But then I hit
Regenerate RGB/Depth correspondence again, without changing anything - and I got this really solid-looking calibration!
|A solid correspondence|
It's weird - same calibration button, same data. James had told me a while back there was a little bit of randomness in the algorithm, and I thought that meant it could go from not-so-good to good-ish. But clearly it can go from fail to great! Some hope for those struggling.
|The lighting conditions|
Here is a picture so you get some sense of the light condition...
Posted Sunday, 8 September 2013
Every day we are surrounded by people we don't know. In every city a mass of people paradoxically leads to greater isolation and individualism - or does it?
What is beyond this narrative? What social and spatial cues take over when we don't know the people surrounding around us? How are we engaging in a shared sense of space, and are when and where are we conscious of it? What is the role of this limited but intimately connected cultural cohesion? How does our physicality and embodied awareness contribute to this spatial conversation?
This experimental video shows footage of a commuter walking through the tunnels of the London Underground. It was shot using a depth-sensing camera and treated with a collage technique to overlay color from other video streams onto the point clouds. Moving a virtual camera around the scene in post-production, we can re-examine this daily journey from the perspective of a segment of total space, and see the intersections with passers-by.
Posted Friday, 16 August 2013
In this video Brian Eno talks about the motivations behind his visual art practice. There are some great quotes in here, and sentiments I think many of us share, like not being able to sit down and fully appreciate the time-stretched presence of your creation until an audience is in front of it and you can no longer change it.
A few of the scenes in the video are shot with RGBDToolkit, which is how I came across it, but actually that's a very small fraction of the video. The makers of this film have used a technique I was thinking of experimenting with later - overlaying the 'wrong' video over a depthmap. A bit like projection mapping in virtual space.
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- The Visual Art of Brian Eno
- RGBDToolkit Sketch at The Sampler
- The Artist-Geek Hybrid
- RGBDToolkit Calibration Tutorial
- How a Depth Sensor Works - in 5 Minutes
- Residency Begins at CAC Troy
- Installation Sketch at Open Studios
- Roman Moshensky's Mirror World
- Open Studios at I-Park
- Perception as a Creative Process
- The I-Park Graveyard
- Scoping Out the Land
- Residency Begins at I-Park
- Residency at Contemporary Artists Center
- Stephen Lumenta's SC TextMate Bundle
- Adding OF Addons (ofxSuperCollider)
- Setting up SuperCollider with TextMate
- Switching to MacBook Pro
- QuickRef for SuperCollider
- Getting Started with SuperCollider
- Getting Started with OpenFrameworks
- Overtones, Harmonics and Additive Synthesis
- Visit to Cold Spring
- The Final Exhibition
- Playing with Particles
- Responsive Granular Sound
- Kinecting to the Network
- First Working Day
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- Freemote Utrecht
- Untitled - Picture This (2011)
- The Wider Context?
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- Talk at Goldsmiths Digital Studios
- Intro to Marius Watz
- Practical Guide to Generative Art
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- Intuition, and Direction of the Project
- Reflections: What is Jaaga?
- Going Further with Ambisonics
- Introduction to Ambisonics
- Surface (2010)
- Servo Motors and Transistors
- Spinning a 12V DC Motor
- Spinning a 5V DC Motor
- First Week at Jaaga
- Presentation Style
- Beginning the Jaaga Fellowship