We are increasingly staged by technology. We might as well take up the challenge to form and inhabit this new terrain and to facilitate transitions between folds of the real (physical, augmented, virtual). Here is a narrative for such a task and a technology to help make it happen.
Posture is an immersive telepresence platform for adventure and socialization in cyberspace. By using multi-camera recording techniques to capture participants body and single channel immersive projection to render the scenes, it creates a shared virtual terrain where participants see each others in 360° video. The Posture platform is thus able to restore non-verbal communication and spatial behaviors (Hall, 1966)1 to greatly enrich the social experience in virtual reality.
The Posture Network is a server-client architecture connecting a number of Posture Bases (displays capable of immersive projection and 360° video capture) from which visitors, equipped with the iPhone 3GS's Posture Pad, can explore virtual terrains and engage with one another as if they were in the same physical space. The server constantly updates all connected bases (clients) with the position and 360° video appearance of every participant. This allows for those in "visual proximity" to see each other and to interact in real-time.
The PostureBase evolved form the Panoscope 360°, a single channel hemispheric projection system, to which has been added an array of video cameras positioned horizontally around the participant; video streams from these cameras are multicasted in real-time to all other bases and used to compose the photographic likeness of each participant in their relative position. Speakers are used to render the soundscape within the projection space; headphones with microphones are used for verbal communication.
In Posture, terrains are created as contexts for exploration, encounters and interaction (work, learn, play, rest...). They are formed and programmed to evolve with user's participation (traces) and to feature emergent phenomenon's (weather). In a formal metaphor inspired by concepts of scalability exposed in Powers of Ten (Eames/Morrison)2, the initial terrain You are here invites participants to play with the scale of things around. Scale x1 blends the physical reality with it's exact virtual representation allowing participants to seamlessly enter/exit the Posture Bases physically or virtually. Scale x2 takes participants into fabricated landscapes more or less familiar. Scale x3 morphs landscapes into a humanscape composed of Posture registered users/inhabitants. Scale x4 opens a particular user's personal document archive (photos, videos, sounds, 3D objects...).
In You are here encounters with other participants in distant Posture Bases can happen anywhere and at any moment along the way. As in the physical space, participants are first seen from a distance and approach decisions and strategies have to be mutually decided and executed to create a face-to-face encounter possibly evolving into conversations, explorations and projects. These are afforded by the real-time (low latency) positioning and orientation of a 360° video representation of each participant and by sound distribution using open headsets with microphones.
The use of a personal devices such as the iPhone to navigate, touch and manipulate in You are here emphasizes the increasingly fluid and natural transition between physical, augmented and virtual folds of reality in our daily lives. The Posture Pad application can be downloaded for free from Apple's AppStore. After enabling the Wi-Fi connection, PosturePad automatically connects to the nearby Posture Base when launched. It can then be used from within to freely explore the virtual space and to engage naturally with other visitors.
As of March 2010, there are five Posture Bases offering access to You are here. Two permanent bases are at Montreal's SAT and one is at Quebec City's LAMIC (Université Laval). The two remaining bases are travelling to venues with access to the broadband network.
1 HALL, Edward T., The Hidden Dimension, New York: Doubleday (1966)
2 MORISSON, Phillip, EAMES, Charles, The Powers of Ten, New York : Scientific American Books, 1984.
For more on the Panoscope 360°: http://panoscope360.com
For more on Luc Courchesne: http://courchel.net
Credits titles for You are here and the Posture Platform
Concept, design, scenario, direction, production, photography, soundscape: Luc COURCHESNE
System architecture (SPIN): Mike WOZNIESKY
Network administrator: Simon PIETTE
Camera array development: Daniel LABONTÉ
Video capture and streaming (Milhouse): Tristan MATHEWS
Additional programming: Alexandre QUESSY, Gideon MAY
iPhone development and web design: Samuel VERMETTE
3D modelisation David DUGUAY
Assistance and coordination: Audrey DESJARDINS
Philosopher in residence: Christoph BRUNNER
Designer in residence: Marilyn TEUWEN
Project created in collaboration with Society for Arts and Technology (SAT) with support from Université de Montréal and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (Canada). Thanks to Monique SAVOIE, Ghyslain BOILEAU, Brian MASSUMI and Philippe DUBÉ.
Credits titles for the Panoscope 360°
Concept, design, prototyping, production: Luc COURCHESNE
Additional design and fabrication: Sébastien DALLAIRE / SAT
Optical design: Simon THIBAUT / Immervision
Projector: Projection design
Immersive viewer: Gideon MAY