The Mediamatic Sensor Fest took place on November 23-25 2010 in Amsterdam and was all about applying sensor technology to art, social media, health and new developments with a particular focus on interactive installations using RFID tags.
The event consisted of three evenings (from 8 to 11pm): IkSentric, an exhibition dedicated to show the RFID media installations developed by hackers, tinkerers, designers and carpenters during the Mediamatic Dev Camp that took place during the preceding 6 days; Ignite Amsterdam 3, featuring 15 short presentations around the central theme of sensors; Sensor Salon, with three presentations on how sensors are being applied in sectors such as art, medicine, agriculture, new media and government.
Willem Velthoven (profile, twitter, linkedin), describes how the Sensor Fest gathers a bunch of hands on designers and artists to “squat” on existing technologies commonly used in the industrial sector and make them more culturally significant by envisioning and realizing new applications.
Sensors + Art + Future + People
The Sensor Fest offered the visitors an extremely rich experience at a very low cost (participation was 3 euro/day or 7,5 euro/3-day). You could play with the interactive installations, talk with the people behind each of them, listen to interesting short presentations regarding hacking, designing and building of fun and crazy stuff or discover the new applications for sensors that will shape our future.
During IkSentric, the 30 participants of the Dev Camp showcased the six interactive installations installations developed during the previous days. My favorite where:
- A blinking contest machine then showed a mosaic of short videos of the losers in a huge wall-of-shame projection
- An 8-bit inspired game that 1) required you to create your own avatar using your RFID tag and a touchscreen, 2) compete on a horizontal screen against another visitor and 3) knit (yes, knit!) the name and avatar of the winner in a human-powered knitting machine that created a lengthy scarf with the 8-bit graphics
- The ultra-scary ikBijt machine, that required you to bite a piece of wood while covering your ears (see photo) and by reading the user profile associated to your RFID tag it spoke to you inside your head! The installation used your own head as an acoustic resonance chamber (you really heard a voice whispering inside your head).
Ignite Amsterdam 3
The main advantage of the Ignite format is that each presentation lasts for 5 minutes (20 slides advancing automatically every 15 seconds), allowing the audience to be exposed to a condensed potpourri of ideas and projects. 15 speakers (full program) took us through sensor-related projects, from creating interactive music installations to hacking an instant messaging toy for kids or Microsoft’s recently released Kinect, from deploying a large-scale sensor network on the Great Barrier Reef to creating an open source hardware prototyping platform for the Nintendo DS, amongst other. After each presentation the audience could ask questions and during the breaks meet the presenters. If I should describe the overall program with keywords I’d use: fun, sensors, interesting, crazy, useful, useless, ingenious…
Unless you’re involved in an MIT Media Lab kind of environment (but not only), you seldom come across people discussing about a “mixed reality continuum”, “intrinsic motivation”, “bridging the gap between the virtual and physical world” or “low-tech spectroscopy for wearable environment sensors”. These were the kind of terms that Kendra Markle, Seth Hunter and Nadya Peek used during the evening to illustrate the extremely practical “using sensors for healthy behavior change” (Markle), artistic social experiences (Hunter) and making complicated sensor technology affordable for everyone (Peek).
It was interesting to note that a big part of the audience was familiar with these terms and were eager to engage in an educated conversation (or extremely nerdy comments) with the speakers. Having the opportunity to talk with them gave me new insights into one of the possible futures in which the world will evolveand some new ideas for my professional activity too.
Who said you couldn’t have cheap (entrance cost), good (content) and fast (duration of the event) at the same time?