The first thing you'll hear as you walk into the Emerging Technologies
exhibits is the clanging of clashing swords.
The source of the loud clanging heard at the entrace to Etech is
the Virtual Chanbara from The University of Tokyo. Participants
don a virtual reality helmet and fight a bloodthirsty opponent with
the aid of a whirring force-feedback device. According to its inventor,
Daijiro Koga, the device creates the sensation of wielding a sword
and the impact of the swordfight through the rotating element that
transmit momentum to the user's arms. "It feels very real,"
says Bryan Wessels as he exits the Chanbara, "I caught myself
moving around, like I was actually fighting."
Emerging Technologies features a number of interactive exhibits
that allow participants to get caught up in an astounding range
of experiences: flying a plane, assembling techno music, getting
your picture taken by a roving red robot, stepping off a ledge,
and, yes, even fighting ninjas with swords.
It's the tenth anniversary of Emerging Technologies, often termed
"ETech" by the SIGGRAPH faithful. The display on the wall
by the entryway illustrates the enormous range of topics covered
by Etech contributions over the years. Scott Senften, this year's
ETech coordinator, marvels at the innovations in areas such as immersive
realities, hypermedia, distributed interaction, telepresence and
biofeedback have been showcased at ETech. "We're starting to
step on ourselves," he says. "Sometimes we'll read about
something cool, and say 'That should be in ETech!' and then find
out that it's been done, it was shown in ETech five years ago. It
shows you how ahead of the curve we really are."
There's a long wait for University of North Carolina's installation,
Physiological Reaction and Presence in Stressful Virtual Environments.
This booth exhibits the synergy between academic research and participant
entertainment: users are outfitted with physiological sensors before
they step into the virtual environment, and their metrics are monitored.
If your heart starts racing when you look over that virtual ledge,
it means that the environment feels real. As Fred Brook's noted, "your intellect knows it is totally safe, but your viscera tells you otherwise."
Another exhibit that might make your palms sweat is Twister.
This so-called "media booth" features a whirling array
of display elements that create a virtual environment around the
user. Stepping into the massive contraption, you might see a person
standing next to you, or fish swimming by. Isn't it frightening
to stand within a spinning keg of electronics? "No, it wasn't
scary at all," says Garry Paxinos, as he emerged from the booth.
"It just needs to have better display resolution to really
As the words "emerging technologies" implies, many of
the projects are just sketches, hints of what excitements lie ahead.
Given the experimental nature of the exhibits, it's not surprising
that things sometimes break down. A survey of the exhibits on the
morning of the opening day finds many signs politely asking users
to return later in the day. Behind the scenes, frantic researchers
are making last minute fixes to make things perform. The SIGGRAPH
audience, a generally technologically savvy bunch, seems to understand.
In fact, the opportunity to test out technologies before their time
has really come is one reason why ETech exhibitors like bringing
their research to SIGGRAPH. "As the cost of the hardware and
computer parts come down, the technology is starting to come from
all over," states Senften, "but we regularly get a lot
of submissions from MIT... a lot of submissions from Japan."
a room full of unusal
inventions , the Public Anemone project from the MIT Media
Lab stands out with its beguiling weirdness. A many-fingered robotic
anemone sits by a rocky pond tending its plants. It occasionally
sees visitors and reaches out towards them, but recoils sharply
when the outstretched hands gets too close. At the end of its five
minute "day," the anemone goes to sleep, the lights grow
dim, and the rocks and flora start glowing to the beat of the sleepy
Next door, the music is a bit more happening. The
Augmented Sound Reality project allows users to place virtual sound
sources in various places in the environment, providing a 3D sound
Block Jam project from Sony Interactive Labs also promotes an inventive
way of putting sounds together. Brightly lit boxes, each holding
a sound fragment, can be joined together and programmed. The playfulness
of the interface and the interaction encourages bystanders to try
manipulating the blocks to change the music being played. Senften
comments, "There are a lot of submissions that the jury has
to guess on... this
was one of those where we
know what to expect but
when it blows you away when you see it in person."
the most exciting aspect of Emerging Technologies, however, is the
possibilty that these mind-blowing inventions will actually make
it into the real world. The Sonic Flashlight, for example, looks
like a technology ready for prime-time. It's a handheld sonogram
machine that uses a half-silvered mirror to project the tomographic
image from the sonogram on a clear lense that lets you see the object
underneath. It's a hilarious experience, imaging balloons with objects
hidden inside, but as you gaze at the images without the use of
any weird glasses or strange headgear, you can see how this could
change the way doctors work.
And that's the
message at the heart of this zany and exotic collection of contraptions
and gadgets. The Emerging Technologies exhibits
are changing the way SIGGRAPH attendees look at our future. In due
time, any of these emerging technologies has the potential to change