This week's East Bay Express features an excellent profile of my friend Ken Goldberg
, artist, engineer, and UC Berkeley professor. A pioneer of Internet telerobotics, Ken was involved in groundbreaking projects like the Telegarden, Mercury Project, Demonstrate, and Mori. (Previous BB posts about Ken here
, and here
.) From the article (photo by Bart Nagel
While most everyone in the emerging field of telepresence -- the ability to experience things from a remote location -- was concentrating on applying video and sound to the Internet, Goldberg was thinking about the next step. What if, instead of simply watching a faraway scenario, you could actually participate? "I could see that once you had that ability to trigger a camera remotely it wasn't too hard to move something, to actually change the remote environment instead of just observe it," he says.
Remote-controlled devices were nothing new, of course. But Goldberg was the first to realize that a robot could be connected to a Web interface as easily as a camera could. This idea was somewhat radical -- robots were generally expensive, sophisticated machines, and the only people allowed to access them tended to be professionals. Putting a robot online would cede control to anyone with a modem and a mouse. As a proof of concept, Goldberg and his students began working in 1994 on what they called the Mercury Project, the world's first "telerobot." While that may sound imposing, the project was actually pretty adorable. People could log on to a live video feed of a sandbox filled with buried artifacts, all related to a certain mysterious book. Using a mouse, they could manipulate the camera and blow sand aside with a robotic device that released puffs of compressed air. After excavating tiny hidden lanterns and magnifying glasses, these cybersleuths were asked to guess which book the props referred to. In 1,200 pages of guesses, only one visitor got it right: Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth, a story chosen for its classic sci-fi-ness. But the volume of traffic attained was remarkable -- Web surfing was still a new habit, after all; Netscape and Yahoo had just launched, and most people's connection speeds were agonizingly slow.
Goldberg next launched the Telegarden, a Webcam trained on a soil-filled planter ten feet in diameter. Rising from its center, like a specter from the grave, was a delicate white robot arm. This time users wouldn't simply blow dirt around: They would use the arm to plant a seed, water it, and, over the course of many months, watch it grow. Goldberg and his students conceived the Telegarden as a sly critique of how the Internet was spawning a convenience now attitude. "It was about slowing down and being a bit contemplative -- you can't accelerate nature," he recalls. "We had fast computers and networks and everything was going at top speed. We wanted to hold up nature and say, 'This hasn't changed in millions of years.'"
It’s the end of an era, sort of: Fraunhofer IIS, the developers of the MP3 audio compression format, announced that they are ceasing their licensing program. In a blog post, spokesman Matthias Rose says that it’s had a good 20-year run and is obsolete. But it’s also true that the decoding patents expired last year, […]
Freddy deBoer writes that he’s been telling the same joke for years about Silicon Valley’s only product, which might be universalized as “At last, a way to verb with nouns on the internet!” But the social-media techopoly is stable, now, and so the venture capitalists have moved on to the three terrible trends that will […]
Alex Wood is an addict but won’t give up his smartphone. But he has five strategies for limiting its control over him: “I used to wake up tired. My body would ache and my head felt sore, like waking up with a hangover. Finally, I took control, like attending an AA class for addicts, I […]
Boasting an IPX6 waterproof rating, the Trakk Bullet Ultra Compact Waterproof Bluetooth Speaker resists dust and heavy rainfall. It’s currently available in the Boing Boing Store.The Trakk Bullet offers the same wireless convenience as other portable speakers, but few are built as tough as this one. Its utilitarian construction is designed to be a totally low-maintenance […]
The Ticwatch 2 Active Smartwatch is a simpler take on an active wearable that raised over $2m dollars on Kickstarter and is currently offered in the Boing Boing Store.Somewhere in between the single-day battery life and platform-specificity of the Apple Watch and Android Wear devices, there exists the Ticwatch. Instead of trying to shoehorn another […]
Loot Crate is a subscription service that delivers a box of curated pop culture goods to your doorstep. To sample their geeky wares, you can order a single mystery box exclusively from the Boing Boing Store.Each month Loot Crate sends you 6-7 unique items and apparel, including collectibles, books, and t-shirts. Pulling inspiration from all […]