2014-07-17

Co.Labs

More Details On The "Smart" Poster Built Specially For Digital Art

This Kickstarter darling reached its goal within 30 minutes. Here's how it will change the art world.



Jake Levine, the founder of a startup called Electric Objects, wanted to create a new kind of computer when he conceived of his digital arts display, a computer that is solely devoted to displaying digital art on the wall. According to its Kickstarter, the EO1, as it's called, has succeeded.

"What if we tried to make a different kind of computer, one that didn’t demand your attention, that didn’t try to absorb you in interaction, that merely displayed beautiful things from the Internet?" asks Levine. An awesomer evolution of the digital picture frame, Electric Objects' EO1 campaign reached its funding goal within a half hour of launching on Kickstarter earlier this month.

This isn't just a novelty; it's a true problem solver. Increasingly, museums are showing new and archived works which are digital, or in the case of newer art, only exist digitally. The EO1’s hardware and software is specially equipped to handle and present these Internet-native pieces of art. And with Electric Objects opening up its SDK to developers within the next few months, the possibility to support and display still more types of media is within reach.


The EO1 displays a single piece of art. Artwork by Organ Amani.

The device essentially runs a custom web browser that connects to the Internet via Wi-Fi. Users can voluntarily put a new image up using Electric Object’s website or app, both of which will directly send the image to the EO1. The EO1’s predecessor, the EO0 prototype, has already reached 100 users worldwide this year, bolstered by an early round of venture capital funding. Positive reviews from the tech world have kept the momentum going. Fast Company featured Levine in its Most Creative People series earlier this year.

This thing looks simple, but its design belies what's under the hood. The EO1 has advanced hardware and processing power to support the kind of complex digital art that is emerging on the web, not just static images and GIFs. The EO1’s browser uses Gecko, the layout engine that quickly loads web pages in Mozilla’s Firefox. There are 2-D and 3-D graphics accelerators to handle artists’ renderings. And the 1GB of RAM can support these new types of moving multimedia.

Graphic artist Erica Gorochow at work on a custom piece for the EO1.

"Some of the most interesting work that developers and artists are doing on the web is in JavaScript," says Levine. He cites a type of art called "generative art" that typically uses an external data stream to shape the visual. It can take into account, for example, interaction from users visiting the piece online. The team is betting on more artists creating coded work, putting in place EO1’s advanced hardware in anticipation.

The team has put in a lot of work to go from supporting standard images and GIFs to supporting JavaScript. The EO1’s browser is compatible with WebGL, the API that lets developers create graphics in the JavaScript language, directly within the browser. And it will support most of the major JavaScript frameworks.

Electric Objects is also currently working with the artist Casey Reas on implementing support for the Processing programming language in the EO1’s browser. Ultimately, the browser will support Processing.js and overall data processing.

Because Electric Objects is designing everything up from its software and down to its hardware, it has the flexibility to implement any type of development platform it wants. The idea for the JavaScript and Processing language support came directly from the company’s relationships with digital artists. With options to choose from, third-party developers will be able to specify what kind of backend their custom apps will use once Electric Objects opens up its SDK.

Electric Objects’ app, which controls what is displayed on the EO1.

Using Kickstarter as its base, Electric Objects plans to ship the EO1 to beta-tester funders in January and the rest of the funders in May 2015. The company will settle on a price point and open up general sales after that.

In the end, the EO1 is a way for artists to explore another medium. And as the Kickstarter project runs its course, the experience is a way for Electric Objects to explore the market’s readiness for its product. Finding the sweet spot between the art and hacker worlds will be an ongoing exercise for Levine.

"I don’t want to disrupt painting, you know?" he says, and laughs.

[Image: Flickr user Horia Varlan]




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  • David Hockney in 2010 exhibited his work on Iphones and Ipads in Paris. Had he forecasted the future standards of art? But most importantly, is this "digital art" just a passing fad?