How could we make an interactive display case into an engaging emotional experience? How could we use dynamic behavior and lighting to bring it to life? And how could we endow it with personality and character?
Mesolite is an emotive display case commissioned by adidas, and designed to showcase a concept shoe. It is named after Mesolite crystals, which it closely resembles in its appearance. The project explores how facial tracking technology can be used to promote social interaction and engage the viewer by – seemingly – coming alive and developing a character of its own.
Inspired by a soccer ball, the display case takes the form of a sphere composed of 31 hexagons and pentagons, robotically milled out of acrylic. The sphere bristles with a forest of 1800 transparent rods of varied length, evoking the speed and movement of a soccer ball. The piece has some magic and wonder about it. The individual rods house addressable LEDs that come alive to create a mesmerizing dance of light - similar to the way that fireflies emit light in nature. And inside the sphere the concept shoe is mounted above an organic landscape of fiber optics, so that it can swivel round.
Mesolite has an ‘eye’, a facial tracking camera that can detect your presence and recognize your facial expression. As you approach, Mesolite comes out of ‘dream mode’ and welcomes you with a ripple of red light across its surface. The shoe on display also comes alive and swivels round to face you. In this way Mesolite attempts to grab your attention. If there are several of you in front of Mesolite, the ‘eye’ detects all of your faces. The shoe then swivels around to look at each of you in turn, as though trying to grab the attention of one of you. Once Mesolite has your attention, you have to get closer in order to keep it. If not, the shoe will start swiveling around in an attempt to grab the attention of someone else. The more you engage with it, the more Mesolite comes alive. When you express surprise, the red lighting starts to ripple with deep breath-like rhythms. When you smile and express happiness, Mesolite will share that happiness by making the shoe spin around rapidly and the red lights flash as though it is also excited and happy!
What Mesolite highlights is the potential for smart technologies to bring an object to life, and give it lifelike properties, so as to engage the viewer. But – more than this – it also reveals their potential to seemingly endow an object with personality and character, so as to foster an emotional bond with human beings.
The computing system for the piece includes a central brain (Raspberry pi) and four micro-controllers which receive information from it. The task of the Pi is to process data from and send data to microcontrollers that interact with the physical world . As such, Pi contains the main application loop, which is orchestrated to run approximately 30 times a second, communicating with the connected microcontrollers to obtain camera data and drive the motor and LEDs. One of the challenges in the programming of the lighting system for this piece was to map the irregular structure of LED pixels to detect the exact location of each pixel with their dedicated ID in the 3D Vector space of the sphere. To achieve this, we exported the coordinates of each point from the 3D file and stored them as a text file on the Pi. Prior to starting the loop, Pi parses the files related to the coordinate system of the LEDs to obtain the
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