Cardboard Prophet: Hacking the 3D Experience at Caine’s Arcade

In case you’ve missed it, the latest internet phenomena (and weekend entertainment) in L.A. has been “Caine’s Arcade,” a delightful project created by 9 year old Caine Monroy and documented by filmmaker Nirvan Mullick. Caine built an arcade for himself out of the cardboard boxes in his dad’s auto parts shop. Unfortunately, he didn’t have many customers,

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(Film “Caine’s Arcade” © 2012 Caine’s Arcade/Nivan Mullick)

but after Nirvan organized a smartmob using the Hidden LA Facebook page and Reddit, Caine now has lots of customers. The coverage for Caine’s Arcade has been phenomenal. News sites and websites have all lauded his arcade. Caine was invited to bring his arcade to MakerFaire™ at the Exploratorium (Makers are individuals who create) for their Make day for trash. Caine was invited to visit the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) to learn about rockets. Caine’s Arcade has gone on the road to participate in Art celebrations around L.A., and Caine recently received the Latino Spirit Award. These have all great opportunities for what seems to be a nice young man with a curious mind. It’s great that people have reached out to offer him opportunities to learn and grow. Many have donated to a scholarship fund for Caine and a foundation has been established to help other young makers. The Goldhirsch foundation will match dollar-for-dollar donations contributed to Caine up to $250K.

The video of Caine’s Arcade inspired other children to create cardboard things of their own. This pinball machine by Ezra was featured on the @cainesarcade Twitter feed:

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(Film “Ezra’s Pinball Machine” © Ezra via makedoTV)

and a version of Caine’s Arcade showed up at the HandmadeHK faire in Hong Kong:

A cardboard arcade in China © @lantaumama

Within all of this (Web-driven) coverage, one of the most striking things, though largely unspoken, is the fact that Caine’s Arcade is analog. Caine is not glued to a Gameboy™ or some other device–he’s actively building something inherently non-digital. Caine has also created a 3D interactive experience to share with others.

In the not too distant past, a 9 year old making a cardboard arcade would not be considered unusual. Kids have always been resourceful and creative with materials, play and imagination.

As we’ve moved into a computing age, the making of that past shifted. As people began to use the computer as a new tool for making, they bumped up against limitations, mostly consisting of what kind of software was available for them to make with. Initially, word processing was the “creation” tool of choice for people to make things with their computers without having to program. Documents, fliers, graphic designs, signs and 2D art were easily created and shared with others via print or by showing someone the art on a computer screen.

As more software became available and hardware developed interoperability, people gained capabilities to make things in the world and capture their productions with digital mediums such as photo, audio and video. The interoperability enabled them to put those “captures” into the computer where they could use the network to share them with others. (This in part, is the capability that Nirvan utilized when he made and uploaded the Caine’s arcade video to YouTube.)

However, documenting, sharing, and creating flat objects on a computer does not completely satisfy people’s desire to make in three dimensions, and/or to create shared experiences with other people in the world.

There is a limitation to what can be made in the world in three dimensions using the computer. Tools have evolved from 2D text to interoperability with photo, video and audio, but 3D interaction outside the machine, created with the machine has largely been elusive.

For the most part, there haven’t been many tools for us to use to do this and many lack the skills or knowledge to fasten their own. Kinect hackers (those modifying the Microsoft Kinect to be open for experimental input and play) have made a start:

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(Film “Juggle Kinect Video” © Shakinfree)

3D printers such as the RepRap or Makerbot, enable 3D objects to be created but those type of printers require some specialized skills and knowledge and can be expensive–especially for a kid.

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(Film “3D Printing a chess pawn with my RepRap” © Erikdb)

3D printers make plastic modeled objects, not necessarily interactive experiences in three dimensions. Also, to print a single 3D object can take a long time.

Thus, there is a shortage: people have access to 3D tools, but many have limited knowledge of how to work with those tools, and the tools themselves are either the limited in creating and generating 3D shared experiences in the world, or too expensive. Many people lack funds and skills for 3D printing and 3D printed objects can be time consuming, solitary and innate.

Lego Mindstorms, Arduinos and others have been a good first start to controlling 3D objects and creating the potential for shared experiences. They have some drawbacks:  specialized knowledge of electronics, special hardware, and perhaps a computer.

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(Film “Arduino Light Game” © phokur)

If someone wants to share 3D experiences with other people and they are 9 years old and don’t have access to much money or a computer, electronics knowledge, a 3D printer, and/or other things like how to program, they’ll build something themselves. Out of whatever is at hand. In Caine’s case, cardboard:

Caine has studio space to make © 2012 Caine's Arcade/Nirvan Mullick

People need room to make and create. Caine is fortunate in that he has more room to make in his dad, George’s East LA shop than many who are wealthier than he is. He has the space to create–studio space. George’s business, Smart Parts Aftermarket, sells used auto parts. Since Smart Parts has mostly moved online, the front counter and lobby space were vacant and Caine was able to recycle the space for his arcade.

In modern apartment buildings or condos there is little space to “make” and as a result, it seems that people have stopped making. Housing developments often have rules and deposits. Some may prohibit painting or the use of glue or hammers at random times: there are noise restrictions and odor restrictions and damage fines and nowhere to store things or to work outside. Many have carports and not garages and inside they are carpeted or otherwise set up for “living and consuming” rather than making.

"Condo Carport" © Grand Harbor Vero Beach)

In Life, Inc., Douglas Rushkoff suggested that post war housing communities in the United States were planned so that people would not borrow or share tools and would take pride of ownership in consumption—of owning their own. This was a sinister step in urban planning: no space for creating or creativity.

I’d argue that for some time, making has been slowly conditioned out of us as a society, and architecture has influenced this trend.  Now that people want to make again, there are more shared maker spaces for them to do so–and more things are being made as a result.

Caine’s Arcade inspires much discussion: entrepreneurship, creativity, parenting, education, making, documentaries, power of social media, sociability, imagination, play, gaming, cooperation, nostalgia, innovation, etc..

For me, the highlight of Caine’s Arcade is the positive response from people all over the world for a low-cost, innovative, creative, analog 3D grounded reality experience, made by someone who is passionate about making, a master of his materials, and dedicated to play.

Caine in his Arcade © 2012 Caine's Arcade/Nirvan Mullick

Google Glasses? Heads up!

Google’s “Project Glass,” is the Augmented Reality (AR) Heads-up-Display (HUD) glasses offering that Google is designing for a near future Internet interactive experience.

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(Video credit: Google)

From watching their demonstration video, I certainly have some questions and observations. Google’s vision (no pun intended) of the future is a place where people ignore women except as witnesses to their achievements, talk with their mouth full, and put their live friends on hold to interact with a machine (oh wait, that’s what people do now); and is one without ads (wait…what?). Thankfully, rebelliouspixels mixed them in:

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(Video Credit: Google + rebelliouspixels)

As I wrote earlier in Connected cAR: Becoming the Cyborg Chauffeur, if Google has their way, we are about to be overwhelmed with synchronous (connecting in real time) and asynchronous (connecting in shifted time) messaging and communication while we walk.

If you’d like to read that piece, I’ll wait.

Not much difference. This time, the idea is that the Augmented Reality (AR) driven multiple input information will be applicable to everyone, not just those behind the wheel of cars. In the Connected cAR, the conculsion was that we were the intermediaries training the robots to drive. This time, we won’t be training the robots to walk for us. It’s more that our usage of Project Glass glasses will be training Google’s AI to learn about the world. This AI is still for the robots, but mostly likely for Google’s robots which aren’t here…yet.

Applin and Fischer’s (2012) recent paper, PolySocial Reality: Prospects for Extending User Capabilities Beyond Mixed, Dual and Blended Reality, discusses the evolution of software development and how the mobile-local-social-geo-web has changed the game with regard to human interaction and participation.  PolySocial Reality (PoSR) is described as a conceptual model of the space that contains individuals’ multiplexed, synchronous and asynchronous individuated data creations. An instance of PoSR might contain behaviors such as walking while talking on a phone, while texting, while the phone checks into foursquare, and sends an update via Twitter and/or Facebook, while replying to incoming friends’ status update and/or other messages at the same time. Each instance of PoSR can contain a lot of action, which can cause distraction, and people may or may not be walking or (we hope not) driving while all this is happening. Because the actions of individuals may overlap, if true, the potential for distraction in each case compounds.

Applin and Fischer suggest that there are cases for historical software development and that we are moving from a homogenous model of having “one user, one machine,” or “one type of user, many machines,” towards a heterogenous model of “many users (all different) and many machines (also all different).” Google’s “Project Glass” in the video is shown as a case of “one user, one machine” in the video, but the actual reality of using the glasses likely will hover around being geared towards that of “many homogenous users, many machines” and when fully deployed, most likely a case of “many heterogenous users, many heterogenous machines” where there is fully functioning PoSR that becomes disruptive. In this last instance, designers and developers of programs must take into account a number of factors including the fact that:

“Details about the context of others are missing and my be difficult for individual users to infer or [contain] details that cannot be inferred; Highly complex elements of differentiated environments are combined into structures that appear different from each users’ point-of-view; and Users as distributed dynamic unique agents.”

This means that people in the Google Project Glass glasses bubble are going to be having some serious navigation problems.

When someone is walking down the street using a cell phone or, as the Google video illustrates, a cell phone like device, the negative consequences from instances of PoSR can become even more problematic. The 2009 study, “Did You See the Unicycling Clown? Inattentional Blindness while Walking and Talking on a Cell Phone”, (Hyman, Boss, Wise et al. 2009) examined the effects of walking while engaged with music players, cell phones or walking with others in a pair. The results showed that cell phone usage might cause an “inattentional blindness” even during an activity such as walking. Cell phone users were found to be less likely to notice something different on a normally travelled path when engaged with their phones. The study found that individuals while talking on a cell phone “experienced more difficulty navigating through a complex environment….walked slower, weaved more often, and made more direction changes.” The observed individuals who were engaged in cell phone conversations for the most part missed seeing a clown riding a unicycle in their immediate vicinity.

I’m going to write that again:

“The observed individuals who were engaged in cell phone conversations for the most part missed seeing a clown riding a unicycle in their immediate vicinity.”

This example illustrates problems for individual people engaged with cell phones conducting regular conversation. The Google Project Glass demo seemed to show simple cases of simple interaction in a nearly synchronous environment. The reality of today’s messaging is much more along the lines of multiple instances of PoSR, hovering more into the asynchronous rather than synchronous messaging category. This means more messages, more responses and less attention to the “unicycling clowns” on our paths and in our lives.

In short, while the idea of getting our attention away from looking down at a device, to looking at the world, when the phone is on our ear, the research still suggests that we have cognitive problems that keep us from acknowledging or understanding or even seeing events in our immediate proximity. If we multiply that by the aggregate of people wearing Google Project Glass glasses, I fear we are in for a bumpy ride.

This response to the Google demo pretty much sums it up:

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(Video Credit: TomScott.com)

Sally Applin is a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Kent at Canterbury, UK, in the Centre for Social Anthropology and Computing (CSAC). Sally researches the impact of technology on culture, and vice versa.

Connected cAR: Becoming the Cyborg Chauffeur

MVS Virtual Cable™ and Virtual Signs™

In early February, I attended a fascinating conference hosted by the Telecom Council of Silicon Valley. This is a first rate organization and the conference did not disappoint. Many executives were present from various telecom, mobile, middleware, AR, audio, video, electronics and computer companies to discuss the future of the “connected car.”

The car is apparently one of the next battlefields for ownership of our personal data and privacy. It is an intimate environment and there will soon be enough sensors to document every human habit and behavior within it. While cars will become the panoptic reporter to our every move, people will also be burdened with an overwhelming amount of data ostensibly aimed at “aiding” them in the driving task. There will be touch activated windshields, Augmented Reality (AR) navigation lines projected onto the windshield that guide drivers on a track of navigation, and the blending of both scenarios with the addition of ads showing up on screen. Audio feedback based on sensor activity is currently available as a service in certain commercial vehicles. Installed sensors monitor driver behavior and provide immediate audio feedback if a driver changes lanes suddenly, is speeding or engages in other unsafe behaviors.

Imagine being on the road in a “connected car.” You’re driving, being assisted by various on screen windshield AR applications that guide you through traffic, map your route and suggest places to stop along the way that you might want to visit. Furthermore, you still have the capability to make and answer calls, tell an agent how to respond to email etc… all while driving. You might be drinking a coffee or having a snack as well.

PolySocial Reality (PoSR), is a conceptual model of the space that contains individuals’ multiplexed, synchronous and asynchronous individuated data creations. An instance of PoSR might contain behaviors such as walking while talking on a phone, while texting, while the phone checks into foursquare, and sends an update via Twitter and/or Facebook, while replying to incoming friends’ status update and/or other messages at the same time. Each instance of PoSR can contain a lot of action, which can cause distraction. Because the actions of individuals may overlap, if true, the potential for distraction in each case compounds.

Without the audio moderating of the sensor model, and even if something similar is installed, the driving task, while always one that consumed all senses, becomes a complex instantiation of PoSR. Bicycles, pedestrians, and/or other vehicles will likely be highly invisible to the driver with so much distraction.

The issue of “gamification” also becomes a possibility in this scenario. When the projected guidelines overlay the actual windshield, is there a perception of reality that becomes even further abstracted and distorted?

One of the vendors had the solution of limiting design features as a simplification strategy. They suggest that an integrated car phone has limited features, that users will want to use their phone in the car–and pay more to do so. Their main hope is that the legislation in place to control mobile phone use in cars will dissuade people from using their own and risking tickets and fines. It remains to be see whether or not people will forfeit non-compliant, full functionality on a smaller screen, at higher risk but at no extra cost. This company is betting on compliance.

Some of the technology representatives at Connected Car, suggested that this overlay navigation technology, “the finest available” — the navigation and technology that is given to fighter pilots–should also be available to each and every driver.

I sat next to a man and whispered, “I’m worried about the ‘gamification’ of driving. People are no longer going to see people through their windshields, they’re going to see lines to follow and advertisements instead of others on the road and where they are going.”

He whispered back, “I’m worried that these companies think that the average driver in the U.S. and/or elsewhere has the same the mental capacity, reflexes and training as those of a jet fighter pilot.”

One of these “finest available” navigation products is currently being tested in Japan. Japan has a homogenous society. Few foreigners are allowed to stay in Japan for very long and the society and culture operates on rules and customs that have survived for thousands of years. People tend to have had a similar early education and there is a long history of video game usage in Japan. It is fair to say that a trial like that can really only happen in Japan. The likelihood of a successful trial remains to be seen, but it is possible that the homogeneity of the Japanese could help the results.

© Pioneer CyberNavi Navigation screen

A trial like that would be a disaster in the U.S. The U.S. is heterogenous. We have many drivers from many parts of the world, coming from a diversity of educational systems and video game mastery and capabilities. There is no predictable homogeneity to draw from.

This is the problem with not understanding the implications of the PoSR model. Present software has limited capacity to handle a multiplexed, highly hetergenous user. This is why the “connected car” is potentially dangerous–there isn’t a good 
”integrated” design solution for the diversity of people in the world who are going to be tasked with driving in this type environment. The cognitive load is enormous.

In the video below, you can see CyberNavi on the small navigation screen. I saw it demoed on a large heads up display (HUD). Imagine:

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My take from the Connected Car conference is that the “connected car” won’t necessarily be about humans and the driving task. The “connected car” is about using humans as a transition technology towards creating more robust automated cars, and the systems that will manage them. The “connected car” is about AI and the driving task. As the sensor and traffic systems become more integrated, humans will be in the way of their performance. This will become an “agent based” task, and until it is perfected, humans will be used as training models.

It’s a crude AI, at the moment, but with real potential. Until it arrives, we’ll be the Cyborg Chauffeur for the “connected cAR.”

Sally Applin is a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Kent at Canterbury, UK, in the Centre for Social Anthropology and Computing (CSAC). Sally researches the impact of technology on culture, and vice versa.