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“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Those words were written by sci-fi demigod Arthur C. Clarke. Modern technological developments are proving this, one of Clarke’s three laws of prediction, more and more accurate with each passing day. Never has it seemed more true or applicable than when watching the video of Bot & Dolly’s projection mapping experiment, “Box.”
“Box” features projection mapping, a technology that transforms objects (generally ones that are strangely shaped and/or not usually used as video screens) into surfaces to show videos. Once called “spatial augmented reality,” projection mapping requires software that spatially maps objects onto a virtual simulation of the actual object or environment the video will be projected on. Then the computer can do its thing, manipulating shapes and forms that ultimately create a new and totally convincing reality for viewers. It’s basically like the most believable optical illusion ever, and when it’s combined with audio, as it is in “Box,” the projection takes on even greater dimension.
“Box” projection maps video onto moving surfaces, which further enhances the overall effect, and achieves Bot & Dolly’s goal of synthesizing real and digital space. In addition to projection mapping and software engineering, the project also uses large-scale robotics to help manipulate the moving projection surfaces.
San Francisco’s Bot & Dolly, a “small company with big robots”, has been working on “Box” for over two years. Bot & Dolly designs and engineers robots that demonstrate possibilities in automation and advanced motion control, with a focus in film-making and other creative arts. They’ve developed a special platform of integrated software and hardware that allows them to control the kind of big, industrial robots featured in “Box.” Their designs have already been featured in movies and commercials, and you can believe that we’ll be seeing more and more of this kind of visual presentation in the future.
My absolute favorite demonstration of projection mapping is the heart of Amon Tobin’s grand ISAM tour. Tobin is a drum ‘n bass DJ who has been around for a while, and while I’ve always liked his music just fine, I wasn’t a total convert until I caught a glimpse of his show on YouTube. I then saw it live in Boston and really all I can say is that I stood there, literally open-mouthed, the entire time. The music just served as another means of accessing the visual experience, as the two were flawlessly synched. Ninety minutes of cutting-edge projection mapping and all kinds of other video techniques that I can’t even name delivered the single most mind-blowing visual experience I’ve ever had the pleasure to witness in person. The video below gives you a taste — both of Tobin’s tour, and of the future of live electronica.