NYU ITP's Spring Show is a techno-art explosion of creativity
The Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) at NYU is a master's program like no other: It lets students delve into all things DIY—from programing, physical computing with things like Arduino, robotics, design, and more.
At the end of every semester, ITP opens its doors to the public to let everyone check out what its students have cooked up for their final projects. It just so happens that for these hackers, a thesis can be something other than a 1000-page dissertation. Instead, the final projects can be anything from robots, programs, and interactive comics all the way to... whatever the heck this thing is.
We went on the first night of the ITP Spring Show to check out some of the coolest projects there.
If you think walking around with a Google Glass looks ridiculous, Adam Quinn has something even more outrageous in mind, and he calls it "Google Glass for Introverts." As Adam put it, it’s designed for “anyone who doesn't want to look ridiculous walking around wearing Google Glasses [sic], and who is afraid to interact with their outside world.”
Adam calls the rigging for his creation the Big Aluminum Head, and it’s designed to be a sort of elaborate laptop carrier that also displays anything you might be thinking of.
To get the whole process going, all you need to do is enter a word like “show.” From there, the software picks out three random but related words (like "theater," "actor," and "performance"). It takes these words and searches Twitter for any tweets with these string, and returns a three-line “poem” as an indirect steam of consciousness.
The Big Aluminum Head also comes equipped with a projector system that displays this information as a sort of reversal to Google Glass: Instead of beaming a feed of information directly to your eyeball, Google Glass for Introverts projects it on the privacy screen for others to see. (Maybe others will now stop asking you how you're doing and you'll be able to avoid mind-numbing small talk.)
And in case you’re worried about bumping into anything, it also has a camera that streams a video feed to your screens to let you see where you’re going.
How You See is an interactive kiosk that lets you play around with, well, how you see the world. The setup is based on OpenCV, a robotics vision programming kit, and it's essentially a camera feed to which you can add certain filters like ones for color, texture, motion tracking, depth sensing, face tracking, and orientation. It’s an interesting way to look at all the aspects of human vision though the eyes of a machine.
The Kinograph is an open-source film transfer machine, and it’s as awesome as it sounds. Mathew Epler put together the Kinograph as a cheaper alternative to digitizing old 35-millimeter film, as well as the audio that goes along with it.
The whole rig is custom-built, from the laser-cut acrylic platforms to the 3D printed film reels. Of course, what keeps this thing ticking is an Arduino board programmed with the openFrameworks toolkit.
The Kinograph spools the film like a real projector system, except instead of projecting the video on a wall or screen, Mathew captures every frame using a Canon 7D DSLR camera. The captured frames then pass though an OpenCV program that pulls out the frame images stabilizes any shaky images.
The system also uses an open-source sound program called AEO Sound to extract the audio that goes along with the video and then splices it into the movie. All this software lives on single Raspberry Pi, allowing you to run multiple Kinographs with just one computer.
According to Mathew, a professional-grade film lab such as this would cost $480,000, whereas the Kinograph costs just $3200 and it works just as well. Mathew says that he might look into a Kickstarter project, not to commercialize the Kinograph, but to help fund a film restoration project.
Lisa Park created one of the more arty projects at the ITP Show by combining brain-reading tech with "visual sound." In her project Eunoia, Lisa devised a mind-reading system using a EEG sensor from Neurosky to convert brainwaves (Alpha, Beta, Delta, Gamma, Theta) into an audio-visual art project.
Eunoia translates the EEG data into sound in real-time through five 15-inch speakers. While the speakers play the audio, they also transfer the resulting vibrations to a set of metal plates filled with water that ripple with the noise. It’s a very cool meditative art project that translates thoughts into motion.
Perhaps the most controversial—and important—projects I saw at the ITP Spring Show was the Racist Door. The project can essentially detect a person’s race by way of a Microsoft Kinect.
It does this by looking at the parts of a person's face that aren’t covered with hair and analyzing them for color as well as complexion. Specifically, the door looks for features of Caucasian people; when it spots someone with those particular traits, it triggers a series of solenoids attached to the door that drag against the ground to prevent it from opening.
What’s even more disconcerting, however, is how easy it is to use current technology to carry out racial profiling. The team used pre-existing software and development tools for the underlying code, OpenTSPS to identity people, and a library of features through FaceTracker. According to Karl Ward of Disruptsy, which has a long history of putting politics into everyday objects, all they needed to do was write a custom program to get everything working together.
Of course, the point here was not to create discriminatory technology. Instead, the goal was to start a discussion about institutional racism by creating physical everyday objects that literally fight against you because of what you are.
We’ve seen tiny flying robots be used to deliver everything from tacos and burritos to engagement rings and even beer. Now, we’re finally getting to delivering something really important: life-saving medical supplies.
The Life Line Drone is a 3D-printed hexacopter designed to carry up to 3 kilograms (roughly 6.6 pounds) of medical supplies. NYU Ph.D student Mathew Mathieu designed the drones to use a networkable Arduino backbone along with a 3D-printed frame. The result is an exceedingly affordable $100 drone.
The idea is that these lifesaving drones would be able to airlift lab samples (like blood testing kits) as well as medications to those that need them the most. Pia Zaragoza, a member of the Life Line Drone team, explained that these drones could prove useful in diagnosing and treating patients in areas impacted by natural disasters or inaccessible by roads.
Forget photos—GIFs are 1000 times better than still images. Sarah Rothberg built a real-life .gifbooth Plus modeled after the Banana Jr. computer from the Bloom County comic strip. It’s pretty much self-explanatory: You go in, act crazy, get a GIF of yourself, and check it out online. The .gifbooth team also devised a bunch of funky filters to let you digitize yourself in any number of Tron-ish ways.
Oculus Rift? Who needs that to have an out-of-body experience? The Mindingo, created by Victor Freire and Peter Terezakis, lets you experience real life in the third person.
The device is essentially a visor equipped with an attached iPod touch that shows you a video feed of...yourself. It’s kind of like walking around blind, except you can still see yourself (sorta). Victor can also mess around with your perspective by switching between two cameras and also by slowing down the footage to make seem like you are lagging in real-life.
And there’s more
This is just a very, very small sample of the awesome projects present at the ITP: Spring Show. And if you’re in the New York area and you want to take a shot at making your own techno-art piece, NYU holds a separate, condensed version of the ITP program called ITP Camp that you can take part in.
The ITP Camp is a four-week tech summer camp of sorts for busy working professionals. Anyone can join in on this non-student program to try their hand at programing, robotics, digital art, and more. NYU is still accepting students for the next ITP Camp, which starts June 1 and costs $1200.