Geek on the Cheap #123:TEI ’10 – Best Conference Ever

TEI Studios from jay silver on Vimeo.

So I went to the TEI Conference last week and had a fantastic time — learning, meeting people, having braingasmic fun. This conference concerns itself with the interlinking of the digital and physical worlds through tangible interfaces, whole-body interaction and interactive surfaces.

There were about 230 attendees from around the world and everyone was brilliant, accomplished and collaborative. Although English was the lingua franca, people were gabbing in German, Japanese, Portuguese, Swedish, Chinese (just to name a few) — a refreshing breeze through my Brocas since I live in very white Vermont.

Of course, right off the bat, I went to the wrong building. Somehow I didn’t know that MIT has built a brand new Media Lab building, a cross between an Apple store and Kubrick’s 2001 — very white with lots of glass, a floor-to-ceiling central atrium with wrap-around labs and walkways criss-crossing from one side to the other. Apparently I have no sense of direction at all whatsoever, because the second I was off the conference floor I was lost. (Though quite happily so.)

A couple of photos I took from the ground floor - click the image to see a slideshow

I had planned to tweet during the papers, but I couldn’t get past the rudeness of having a computer in my lap while someone’s presenting. I know from first-hand experience that it’s awful to look out at an audience and not find anyone looking back at you. And I didn’t tweet from the hotel because you had to pay for wifi, which I refused to do (yes, I’m cheap).

However, I did shoot a few videos, and this week’s Geek includes a couple that describe the breadth of the work shown at the conference.

The Soft and the Hard

We all use interfaces every day — our phones, microwaves, light switches, cars. We push a button, click a mouse, swipe a finger. We expect them to be where they always are which is, in fact, considered to be good design.

However, what if an interface is temporary, ephemeral? Do we really need to know where it is all the time if we know what it is? And what if the interface requires great care in its handling? Does this make it more precious or the work it accomplishes more dear? These are just a few of the questions that come to mind with the work of Tanja Doring, an integration of art and technology:

With Soumitra Bhat, however, we have a lovely synthesis of music, technology and social impact. He has created TouchTone, an electronic musical instrument for children with cerebral palsy. It’s a clever way of giving these children access to the joy and therapeutic benefits of making music. Normally, their limited physical abilities make it impossible for them to play a musical instrument.

These two innovations describe the breadth of work presented at the conference — from concrete applications of interaction design to more abstract ideas of how we might use the various properties of physical objects in combination with either current or projected computational and/or electronic capabilities.

Stay tuned for more next week — workshops (and kits). The video at the top is just a tease of how cool they were.

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