Urban renewable energy laboratory

Existential Technologies

Existential Technologies (EXISTech) are technologies of self determination and mastery over our own destiny.

Examples of EXISTech include cyborg technologies like wearable computing, as well as small-scale alternative energy sources and other technologies of sustainable living.

The goal of EXISTech is to help individuals and small groups of people take back control of their own lives, by relying less on centralized surveillance, less on centralized media, and less on centralized power. (Three-phase power to the people!)

Here are some examples of Existential Technologies:

This research agenda exists at the nexus of research and teaching, as well as at the nexus of Art, Science, and Technology.

An important element of this work is the notion of passion over discipline, e.g. what I like to call an "interpassionary" rather than an interdisciplinary approach.

More specifically, this research also includes performance art (e.g. sousveillance theatre), issues pertaining to the environment (existenergy and existainability), as well as public policy (cyborg law, energy policy, as well as legal, ethical, and policy issues).

Cyborglaw/Buildinglaw ('glaw for short), pertains to the laws of personal boundary (e.g. cyborg self, cyborg home, and cyborg tribe).

The three main areas, encompassed by this work, therefore, are:

These three areas are certainly areas that we feel passionate about.

Existential Technologies Research Lab (ETRL)

In the future, the main issues we will have to struggle with, will concern public policy as related to personal privacy, and the balance between surveillance and sousveillance, as pertaining to environmental issues. For example, how much surveillance should we tolerate in order to save electricity? Surveillance cameras with intelligent computer vision can save electricity by tracking our every move to very carefully control the lighting in a building. Should we allow the cameras to also be installed in the bathroom to control the lights there as well? Should the cameras also optimize shower usage, and flush the toilets for us? What policies should be in place when computer vision is used to save lives (e.g. the surveillance cameras already in use in the public baths at the North Toronto Community Centre for automated drowning detection).

A series of Cyborg Echoes exhibits, such as the events of March 2003 which included the "Building as Blog" project. The Buildinglog ('glog for short) and the Cyborglog (also abbreviated 'glog), explored the relationship between the individual and the "smart" building. There is an important tradeoff between what intelligence (computation) is attached to the individual (i.e. what makes us cyborgs) and how intelligent the building is.

The balance between personal intelligence and environmental intelligence (computers in the environment around us) is what I call "equiveillance" (the equilibrium between surveillance and sousveillance).

This was one of the projects explored in Deconism:

home of the ETRL, Located at 330 Dundas St. West, Toronto, directly across the street from the Art Gallery of Ontario.

The building is an exploration in energy conservation. Large floor-to-ceiling windows run all the way across the front of the building, to make good use of natural light.

The ETRL is less than one minute, on foot, from Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD), five minutes, on foot, from the central part of University of Toronto's main campus.

An energy efficient central heating and central air conditioning system has been implemented through the implementation of three separate computer controlled HVAC systems.

The thermal mass afforded by six inch thick concrete floors on steel beams provides sufficient heat/cold retention that a large part of the heating and cooling is passively moderated.

The 370 gallon storage tanks allow solar-heated water to be stored for later use, in a modernized plumbing network that includes automatic sensor-operated faucets, sensor operated showers, and various further innovations in modern technology.

Fixtures are interconnected with Category 5 cable, and there are internet connections in every room and closet of the building.

The location directly opposite the AGO also provides a good venue for performance art, as well as to showcase scientific and environmental breakthroughs.

View out front windows:

The 45-degree architectural structures out front optimize space to create a holding area for large numbers of people. Such a large holding area is useful for gallery openings or other events where there is a long lineup outside:

The front windows on the main level indent at a matching 45 degree angle so that there is an outdoor exhibit space right outside the windows.

(Outdoor exhibit space as viewed here from inside the South gallery.)

The outdoor exhibit space has a high visibility from the street, because it is sheltered but not is out in front of the glass, up on a raised platform approximately 11 feet off the ground.

White is Green

Deconism is an architectural aesthetic that was motivated by cleanliness, and thus makes creative use of clean white surfaces, and clean modernist/postmodernist/pastmodernist architectural lines.

All of the surfaces in the building are white, and rather than using wallpaper or paint to colour them, they are coloured by the use of data projectors, computer controlled illumination, as well as new forms of imaging technologies:

This results in reduced energy consumption, while maintaining a pleasant environment.

During the daytime, natural light is fully utilized, and it is seldom, if ever, necessary, to use any electric light at all during the day:

The North Gallery with glass ceiling makes full use of the natural light and is often used as a natural-light photography studio, exhibit space, performance space, and natural-light concert hall:

The "Natural Artificial Light" effect

After dark, we use a clever way to trick the mind's eye into thinking there's more light than actually present; collimated lights that are mounted outside the building create parallelogram-shaped shadows that mimic natural sunlight, as shown below:

Saving electricity with Natural Artificial Light

There is an outdoor catwalk approximately 30 feet above the glass ceiling, where weatherproof theatrical lights and stage lights are rigged above the glass ceiling to create effects such as the illusion of natural light seen above (the above pictures were taken on a dreary dismal rainy evening).

The use of lighting that comes from outside the building effectively tricks the mind's eye into thinking that the space is a lot brighter than it really is.

It is the clever arrangement of collimated light sources, casting parallelogram-shaped shadows from the window framing, that makes the interiour seem like it is daylight-bright, when in fact much less wattage of light is needed.

The 330 Dundas Street site has two DMX-512 building automation systems that can be programmed to simulate the mixture of sun and clouds (e.g. simulate cloud movement as clouds move past the sun), to make full use of the glass ceiling as well as the large floor-to-ceiling windows elsewhere in the building. There is more than 150 linear feet of outdoor rigging/catwalk, as well as various individual outdoor light stands for the installation of outdoor lighting that is directed into (from outside) the various windows in the building.

The South Galleries in Section "A" also make use of what I call the "Natural Artificial Light" effect:

Additionally, the downstairs front gallery also has floor-to-ceiling windows and makes excellent use of the Natural Artificial Light effect. Here is a mixture of Natural Artificial Light (e.g. nearly collimated light shining in from outside the building) and a little bit of inside light to mix with it:

There is also lots of natural light in the front studio and performance spaces. Here in this daytime use, there is no need to use any electric lighting:

There is also an intelligent "sentient sign" outside on the street. People walking by on the sidewalk can thus interact with the flat panel LCD and other displays built into the sign. The sign also contains a camera so that it tracks passers by, and renders a virtual window view for them, to create the illusion of a holographic 3D video display. Here is a view from inside, looking out onto the street (long exposure view, streetcar traffic motion blur, etc.), showing the sentient sign:

This performance art installation makes the entire sidewalk in front of the building into a performance space.

Virtual windows:

Another way in which we are exploring energy savings is through the use of intelligent re-configurable spaces. Here, for example, a deep amber window works with natural or "natural artifical" light, to create a powerful illusion of warth and brightness. Therefore with less than 100 watts of light, the very large space in this section of the building can be rendered very pleasant.

Outdoor Performing Arts Spaces: summertime theatre, as well as overflow space for bigger events:

In the warm summer weather, rather than using the air conditioner we are able to hold large events up on the roof, so that the natural breeze high above the city, cools the attendees. We have setup a number of theatrical lights and other equipment, including a rooftop mounted three phase electrical distribution system, and rooftop mounted DMX512 control system, rigging, and the like, so that it is possible to have summertime events in which there is no need for energy-wasting mechanical cooling. Additionally, since the lights are also outside the building (as they are with "natural artificial light") there is no excess heat buildup that would otherwise require mechanical cooling.

Extra High Efficiency hot water heater

Through the design of a water temperature control system, sensor operated energy-saving fixtures are optimally controlled from a central facility:

Eleven showers are supplied from a 400,000 BTU/Hour natural gas hot water heater. This is the world's most efficient hot water tank, having an efficiency of 99%. There are also additional storage tanks available for solar-heated water.

There is also a whole-building water filter on a 1.5 inch pipe off the 6 inch watermain that comes into the building. Shower water may be filtered down to the submicron level, to remove any impurities that might accumulate when when using solar water heating equipment.

The HVAC, lighting, and plumbing fixtures can be controlled from any of various building-automation computers within the facility:

The computer can thus analyze water flow and heat flow patterns in the building to optimize air handling and plumbing control. In the above screen grab, the blue regions indicate water flow in sectors where the computer vision system has detected a user of the six-station shower system. Here four users have been detected. Sensor operated fixtures provide increased hygeine and convenience, as well as ADA accessibility compliance, together with reduced water consumption.

Solar and wind power

Other modernizations in progress at the 330 Dundas Street site include solar and wind power electrical backup systems, to be provided by two 3kW vertical axis wind turbines, one 2.5kW horizontal axis wind turbine, and a large solar panel, 26 feet wide and 150 feet high, currently in the works.

Intelligent "mind-reading" lighting

Our intelligent headbands measure brainwaves (EEG) and determine how much light we need in order to complete a given task. When reading (i.e. when paying attention) a message is sent to the lights to cause them to increase in brightness. When daydreaming the lights gradually dim down, slowly enough as not to startle or annoy anyone. If nobody is awake, the lights dim right down to zero.

We have also used our innovations in brainwave-controlled lighting systems in applications directed at the perorming arts, an example of which is shown below:

This and other explorations in existimology (the epistimology of personal space and the metaphysics of freewill) form the basis of ongoing research at the ETRL.

Eliminating the need for electric lighting: Reducing electricity consumption by a factor of a million

When electric light fills a room, it blasts photonic energy in every possible direction, for being seen by eyes in every possible location. But why not light only that which need be seen?

Electric eyeglasses afford us this possibility.

With electric eyeglasses, one can see in complete darkness.

In addition to enabling better eyesight, as well as facilitaing new genres of visual art, EyeTap devices can help solve the energy crisis.

Such eyeglasses can also save electricity, by allowing us to see in complete darkness, or, more generally, better eyesight means that there is a dramatic reduction in the amount of light needed to provide the same degree of visual clarity. This reduces the need for electric light, and is therefore one possible solution to help with the energy crisis.

Here is a diagram showing how the eyeglasses work:

Mann's wearable computer reality mediators have evolved from headsets of the 1970s, to eyeglasses with optics outside the glasses in the 1980s, to eyeglasses with the optics built inside the glasses in the 1990s [Mann 2001] to eyeglasses with mediation zones built into the frames, lens edges, or the cut lines of bifocal lenses in the year 2000 (e.g. exit pupil and associated optics concealed by the transition regions). For example, in one such design, the computational element of the eyeglasses is incorporated into the eyeglass frames, as shown below:

In view of such a concealment opportunity, Mann envisioned a new kind of eyeglass design in which the frames come right through the center of the visual field. With materials and assistance provided by Rapp optical, eyeglass frames were assembled using standard photochromic prescription lenses drilled in two places on the left eye, and four places on the right eye, to accommodate a break in the eyeglass frame along the right eye (the right lens being held on with two miniature bolts on either side of the break). Mann then bonded fiber optic bundles concealed by the frames, to locate the camera and aremac in back of the device.

This research prototype proves the viability of using eyeglass frames as a mediating element. The frames being slender enough (e.g. two millimeters wide) do not appreciably interfere with normal vision, being close enough to the eye to be out of focus.

This brings about a reversal of the roles of eyeglass frames and eyeglass lenses, in which the eyeglass lenses are a decorative design element, whereas the frames are what enables the seeing.

When you first look at this design, you probably think that the frames block the vision, but for the fact that they are so thin. But even if the frames were wider, they can be made out of a see-through material, or they can be seen through by way of the illusory transparency afforded by the EyeTap principle [Mann 2001]. Therefore, there is definite merit in seeing the world trough eyeglass frames; the frames not block vision because of illusory transparency, because they are computationally transparent as part of the compuational process of seeing. To understand this concept, see for example the picture shown below:

Here subject matter blocked by the display device is still visible because of illusory transparency. The subject matter blocked by the computer screen is replaced by a computationally processed version of reality.

Moreover, the long-term adaptation to seeing through the device provides a unique opportunity to capture, process, store, and recall visual memories. Unlike a mere wearable camera, the EyeTap, because it becomes a manner of seeing, captures exactly what the bearer does see. This results in a new kind of EyeTap cinematographic vision, which involves long-term adaptation to the new way of seeing.

One aspect of the new way of seeing involves learning to see in image-stabilized coordinates, in which a new kind of photographic vision emerges, as shown below:

This gives rise to computer mediated reality as a new way of seeing: longterm adaptation to stabilized image coordinates results in a unique photographic vision of the world.

Moreover, a living and permanently installed/instilled photographic perspective allows the bearer to capture the birth of a newborn, or to capture baby's first steps, as shown below:

The birth of a newborn (Christina Mann, as documented in Christina's 'glog, http://christinamann.com), and a little over a year later, Baby's First Steps, captured by way of longterm adaptation to stabilized image coordinates.

Presently Mann is working with his graduate student, Chris Aimone, as well as with other students, on further research into seeing aids and computer vision systems.

In this article, we show some of our designs, for electric eyeglasses. All of them are real working systems, that function as seeing aids, visual memory aids, and wearable camera phones, helping us stay connected with our loved ones, helping us remember our lives, and helping improve our safety.

Aimone and Mann succeeded in designing an injection moulded EyeTap suitable for mass production, as shown below:

This was based on an earlier prototype first made in aluminum:

After wearing the EyeTap for a number of years, we adapt to seeing the world that way, and this provides a new kind of personal experience capture, in day-to-day life. The hands-free nature of the EyeTap therefore helps document personal interaction.

Here is an example of cyborglogging (also known as a 'glogging). A 'glog is a recording of an activity made by a participant in the activity. Here father and daughter collaborate in the assembly of structural pipe fittings ("rigging") as an example of the use of the EyeTap for 'glogging, and the generation of a family album:

Here's the electrial service for ETRL (3 phase 208Y/120V).