FLORA: network intelligence

A project by Jeff Crouse, Liu Chang, Jason Chen, Yu Jen Chen, Ray LC, Junyao Liu, Joyce Zheng.

Where are you from? What are you? Where are you going? We are here to watch. We are going to. We live in a world inundated by technology, but even the newest technology comes about by evolution from previous forms. Just as the rain forest covered our world, providing a canopy for the development of species connected to each other in an environment, the television and screen-based interfaces today is the canopy for a network that connect humans together in a social network. Can the forest and the internet of things be part of the same evolutionary track? Where we are before is part of where we are now, which is the how we can begin to understand our future.

Introducing FLORA: a video projection connected to physical TVs using an interactive analog controller that narrates the evolution of digital technology as a process of mapping ourselves onto devices

Aiming to show a network of intelligent devices embedded in a world that could be past, present, or future, we put remotely controllable TVs in both physical and digital environments that blur the boundaries of what is before, what is now, and where we are going.

Design and Construction

We designed a controller that connects the physical and digital worlds. The controller is a remote control which can both change the channels of the TVs in the projection and in real life. The remote can also change views in the projection. We used a Teensy microcontroller to connect the controller to Unity, which displays the terrain produced using Gaia and GeNa. The Unity program had to be optimized for speed because of the large amount of speed trees and grass on our terrain. A camera track that runs through the terrain was implemented using Cinemachine. The controller is designed to interrupt the track movements in cinemachine to give the viewer the presence of stopping to watch TV in a forest. The digital TVs are texture mapped and refined using Surface Painter, and put into the Unity environment, which evolves in time in a cycle of a few minutes for every 24 hours using the Enviro package. We added fog to give the forest an aura of mystery, and used a terrain of small hills and valleys that mimicked a dry forest. The TVs showed videos of increasingly chaotic nature as a subprocess generated by Spout on to the Unity scene.

Installation and Exhibition

A week before the exhibition start, we began putting physical TVs, fake rocks, artificial vines and grass, and the fabricated controller in our exhibition space at Java Studios. The platform that the controller sits on is custom fabricated in wood and painted in white. We produced a poster that adheres to the wall of the exhibit and projected the environment continuously behind the physical TVs. For the opening we invited artists, designers, and friends, who visited the gallery on and off for two weeks. Audiences were amazed by the vastness of the terrain and interaction with physical and virtual TVs. Most can understand the environment as it stands in relation to our virtual world, and they also found the TV images and movements of the camera increasingly disturbing. They also felt a sense of peace with the forest, as if it’s not quite present, and not quite past. As a commentary on digital technology, they told us that the TVs are just as life in this state of society appear to be, increasingly disrupted by social media and technology, yet finding balance with it, much like the way a rain forest heals itself regardless of what species or technologies pervade it.

This work was exhibited at Brooklyn’s Java Studios in 2018. Here’s the demo video.

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