An interactive art installation was realised as part of the 150 year jubilee of ETH Zurich and presented to a wide public for two and a half weeks in the Welten des Wissens exhibition at Platzspitz Zurich. The Generosa Enterprise installation provides information about Monte Generoso, a mountain located in the southern part of Switzerland. The visitors of the exhibition are taken along a journey where they can experience the world of Monte Generoso combining art, science and interactive paper technology.
Information about the worlds of air, water, earth and fauna at Monte Generoso have been collected and stored in a database in the form of movies, photographs, sound clips and texts as well as pieces of art and scientific research results. The idea is that users can access information stored in the database by drawing a picture. At the same time, they create a new artwork consisting of their personal drawing augmented with digital information about the mountain which is retrieved from the database. Each user is given an empty sheet of paper and a Digital Pen. The user takes a seat at one of the two workplaces and starts to draw a picture, write some text etc.
Although the initial paper seems to be empty, it hides digital information which can be activated by drawing with the Digital Pen. A virtual grid with a lattice spacing of one centimetre covers the whole page, where each square centimetre links to a specific piece of information about Monte Generoso in the form of an image, a sound or a movie. Each time a user "selects" a new square while drawing a picture, the information associated with this specific square gets activated. The users do not know which information is hidden in specific areas of the drawing sheet and therefore have to explore the initially empty page rather than deliberately accessing information about the mountain. Movies and images are projected directly onto the table, in front of the drawing area, by using over desk projection. Each workplace is further equipped with a pair of loudspeakers for sound output. The system architecture that was used for the Generosa Enterprise installation is similar to the EdFest and Lost Cosmonaut architectures. The major difference is that we did not use the Client Controller but apply active components to directly control all input and output channels.
The augmentation of the drawing process with digital information about Monte Generoso had different effects on visitors of the exhibition. Some of them did not look at the projections at all and were just very focussed on drawing their picture. Other users were inspired by the movies, images and sounds and integrated parts of it into their personal drawing or started discussing the presented material with other visitors. A key factor for the success and popularity of the Generosa Enterprise installation was its simple user interface. Everybody knows how to use a pen to draw a picture on a piece of paper and therefore even people who normally have no access to computers had no problems at all using the system. The only guided interaction with the non visible computer takes place when a user has finished their drawing. There is a field a the bottom of each page where the user can sign their artwork and finally a special box that has to be ticked with the Digital Pen. The ticking of the box is the signal for the computer that the visitor has finished their drawing which is ready for further processing.
All captured strokes are used to rebuild a digital version of the original artwork. This line drawing is augmented with any digital information that was accessed by a specific user while interacting with the system. For each movie or sound, a small thumbnail was created in advance and stored in the database. These thumbnails are now combined with the original drawing, leaving traces about the digital information that was accessed. Each time a stroke enters one of the virtual squares linking to the digital information, the corresponding thumbnail is inserted as a background image. The final artwork is sent automatically to a printer which is hidden behind one of the booth walls and, a few seconds after a visitor has finished their drawing, they can collect the printout through a small slot in the wall.
The original drawing together with the augmented printout could be taken home by the visitors. Although a massive amount of computing power and other technical equipment was necessary for realising the Generosa Enterprise installation, all computers and other devices, for example the printer, where hidden from the users. They could interact with latest IT technology and access information about Monte Generoso in a very natural way, namely using paper and pen.
Additional information is available on the Generosa Enterprise project website.
Beat Signer, Fundamental Concepts for Interactive Paper and Cross-Media Information Spaces, ISBN 978-3-8370-2713-6, Hardcover, 276 Pages, May 2008 (first published 2006 as Diss ETH No. 16218)
2 publications on this page.
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