Inventing the not too distant future: The Distance Lab

Posted by Ian on Apr 22, 2009 in blog | No Comments

In a far away and distant place in the Scottish Highlands sits a buzzing hive of new mediators, creatives and tech heads busily working on inventing new and innovative ways of keeping us all connected to eachother no matter the distance between. The Distance Lab is the brain child of MIT Media Lab grad Stefan Agamanolis, and the multi-disciplined, patchwork team under his direction has pioneered some of the most endearing, entertaining and enabling tech of the last few years.

With a remit to ‘bring together digital media technology, design and the arts to redefine and overcome the disadvantages of distance in learning, health care, relationships, culture and other domains’, The Distance Lab’s team sets itself the ambition of radically creating innovative futures of distance-related technology. Mobilising the whimsical, intimate and social, the Lab occupies a new space between the sometimes detached agency of the academy and the usually overly commercial intention of industry. With an extensive and growing list of projects and prototypes, they are quickly earning international notoriety and a reputation for designing and developing some of the most creative kit going.

For example, exploring the theme of health and social distance, Remote Impact [seen in the above video] is a dynamic TUI (tactile user interface) allowing internationally dispersed pugilists to battle it out in a digitally connected ring. Punching, kicking or throwing themselves at a shadow of their opponent projected on a plush wall, the system of sensors registers not only hits but also intensity and awards points accordingly. A step up from the Wii, the visceral physicality of Remote Impact finds businessmen in suits, young children and grandmothers alike exerting themselves in direct competition. Allowing the purging of aggression, the system has been suggested as a way of promoting emotional health as well as an entertaining way to build teams and break the stress of the traditional teleconference environment.

Another touching project is SeamuSays. The team is developing a doll that can record and replay messages from parents or other loved ones. Different ways of interacting with the toy would trigger different messages to be played, and it is intended that future versions would be able to accessed by remote, allowing parents to update and leave new messages for their children while they are away.

And for the more adventurous or sensuous among us, Mutsugoto is a remote body drawing interface that allows couples separated by distance to share intimate creative experiences. Mutsugoto will feature at the upcoming Edinburgh Arts Festival and will be seeking three long-distance relationships that are willing to beta-test the prototype. More information on the search for couples can be found at New Media Scotland.
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