Day in the Lab

XVIII.4 July + August 2011
Page: 92
Digital Citation

CAVI


Authors:
Kim Halskov

How would you describe your lab?

The Centre for Advanced Visualization and Interaction (CAVI) is an interdisciplinary lab for the arts and sciences at Aarhus University in Denmark. We have a small core staff of two software engineers, an interaction designer, a 3-D graphics designer, an electrical engineer, a production manager, and a number of student interns who all work with architects, opera singers, digital artists, museum staff, school kids, physicians, interior decorators, and light engineers. Last but not least, we have large number of researchers, most of whom have backgrounds in interaction design or digital aesthetics, although some have backgrounds in computer science. A lot of people work at CAVI—only a few are on our payroll. Or, as I overheard a kid from a visiting school say to his friend: “Do they really get paid for working here?”

What kind of facilities do you have?

Our lab was originally established 10 years ago as a 3-D visualization center, so we have a large 6.4 × 3.6-meter 3-D stereo display in a space without permanent chairs, which permits us to remove them and research bodily interaction, or seat 20 to 30 people attending a performance of an opera singer interactively creating 3-D scenography with his voice. Next door we have our virtual studio, where we can combine digital 3-D models and animation with physical objects and people in real time. We do not use it much for conventional film production, but instead as a visualization tool in design processes—for instance, for making virtual video prototypes. In our third space we research experimental design, using things such as sensor boards, interactive tables, and 3-D projection on physical objects. In our foyer we have a temporary installation of 6 × 2-meter LED panels. Our computers may be as small as matchboxes, or—until we recently trashed our Onyx computers—as big as refrigerators. We work with displays one pixel wide (Flexdots), as well as with displays of several hundred square meters, as parts of media architecture.

What makes your lab unique?

We carry out research through design, in the sense of making practical design experiments aimed at gaining insight into different areas of interaction design, including design processes, interfaces, and use. Many of our researchers have backgrounds in participatory design, which explains our concern with the contexts for which we design. A strong interest in exploring the design of engaging experiences is a persistent thread throughout our project portfolio.

In almost all of our projects, we work closely with external partners, such as technology providers and other businesses. In the area of cultural computing, we work with independent artists as well as cultural institutions, such as museums. Collaborating closely with external partners pushes us to take context seriously and to make full-scale installations that may be put into the real world—we do not do any controlled lab experiments. Our recent experimental research cases include the design and implementation of the media facade for the Danish Pavilion at Expo 2010 in Shanghai (shown below), a collaboration with the Danish architectural firm Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), and Martin Professional, a market leader in light technology. Last year, together with BIG and Kollision, a local design and architectural studio, we also created “Loop City,” a 3-D projection installation for the 2010 Architectural Biennale in Venice. This past winter, one of our cultural heritage installations, “The Mejlby Stone,” was on display at the World Creativity Forum in Oklahoma. Now it is back at a local cultural history museum.

As I mentioned, we also focus on design processes—for example, we developed our own creative technique called “Inspiration Card Workshops,” and we are currently developing a tool that supports reflection on design processes.

How would you describe a day in the life of CAVI?

Every day is different. If you were to take a look at our calendar this week, you would see that Monday, a digital artist is coming to see the visuals we have developed for projection on mannequins as part of a dance performance, and Tuesday, a high school class is visiting us; annually, we have more than 1,500 visitors from schools, industry, universities, city administration, and so on. Wednesday we meet with a design company to review a 3-D projection setup. Thursday is the last day for one of our student interns, who recently graduated, and we are probably going to have muffins together. Friday, we have a meeting with a potential partner about financing a joint project.

Who are your neighbors?

CAVI is part of IT-City Katrinebjerg, where the IT campus of Aarhus University is located. Next door is the Department of Information and Media Studies and the Computer Science Department—each with around 1,000 students. CAVI collaborates closely with the Center for Digital Urban Living and the Digital Aesthetics Research Center. Across the street, a number of start-up companies are located in the same building as Google and other major companies. A key player at Katrinebjerg is the Alexandra Institute, a private applied-research company mediating collaboration between industry and the university.

What is your next step?

Our next step is to further develop research collaboration, in particular with labs and companies outside of Denmark, so if anybody out there wants to collaborate with us, please drop us a line.

Footnotes

CAVI collaborated with an architectural firm and a lighting company to create the media facade for the Danish Pavilion at the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai.

Figures

UF1Figure. Clockwise from top left: Opera singer Jesper Brun-Jensen creating 3-D scenography with his voice, Aarhus By Light—an interactive media facade invites citizens to be part of a shared experience, CAVI’s 3D Panorama Lab, a CAVI studio, and Flexdots.

Sidebar: Selected Projects

Media Architecture. Media architecture projects explore the potential of integrating interactive media into architecture. Through collaboration with architectural companies and display manufacturers, we seek to understand the design process of media architecture, the perception and use of media architecture in practice, and the wider impacts of media architecture for urban living. Our projects range from small-scale interventions to the integration of interactive facades into new buildings, such as the Danish Pavilion at the 2010 Expo in Shanghai. Contact: Peter Dalsgaard | Dalsgaard@CAVI.dk

Cultural Heritage. We investigate how digital technology creates engaging experiences that enable museum guests to express their emotions and ideas about the exhibitions as part of their efforts to understand and interpret them. 3-D projections on museum objects, interactive multitouch tables, and tracking technologies are some of the technologies we investigate in museum environments. We also approach the question of how new technology challenges the museum’s role as a place for reflection and learning. Contact: Ole Sejer Iversen | oiversen@cs.au.dk

Interface Aesthetics. Our interface aesthetics projects deal with how choices, conduct, and, ultimately, values and aesthetics are embedded in interface design and technical infrastructures. In collaboration with the British artists group, The People Speak, we recently produced an installation, “Planetary Pledge Pyramid,” for the UN climate summit, COP 15. The installation was an experiment with community action and decision making, involving a pyramid scheme, a cell phone, a talk show, a Facebook application, and a live game show. Contact: Christian Ulrik Andersen | imvcua@hum.au.dk

Sensor-based Interaction. DUL Radio is a small, wireless tool kit for sketching sensor-based interaction. We developed a platform that balances ease of use (learning, setup, initialization), size, speed, flexibility, and cost, and is aimed at wearable and ultra-mobile prototyping when a fast response is needed—for instance, when controlling sound. The target audience includes designers, students, and artists, who have limited programming and hardware skills. Contact: Martin Brynskov | brynskov@CAVI.dk

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