Next time you splash around at the Six Flags water park you may be doing some significant–like contributing to some research on computing.
A fish-shaped musical instrument that spouts water jets into which users dip their fingers is being hailed as an example of a new user interface. The instrument called hydraulophone involves putting your fingers on tiny water jets and producing a soothing, organ-like music.
It’s an example of what’s being called a “Flexible Limitless User Interface” that doesn’t demand any level of skill from its users, yet can offer an experience that’s deeply satisfying.
“What we really do with these kind of interfaces is make them as addictive as possible and to do that we have to find a way you can exert your own influence on a system,” Steve Mann, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Toronto, told attendees at the Singularity Conference in San Francisco held over the weekend. “It can be a very absorbing experience.”
Mann and his colleague Ryan Janzen gave attendees a performance of the hydraulophone.
The instrument resembles a large flute, except with water flowing through it instead of air. It has 12 holes, each of which spews out a water jet. The chords are played by blocking one or more of the water jet holes with the fingers.
Mann has been billed as the world’s first cyborg. For about 30 years now, he has been wearing some sort of wearable computing device including an Eyetap, a pair of glasses that allows the eye to function as a camera, as well as digital systems monitoring his heart and brain. These devices are part of a world he calls computer-mediated reality.
The hyradulophone is an idea that Mann started working on in the 1990s. The device blends art and technology, he says. Early versions of the device were hard to play because the water jets had to be pressed down very hard to create the musical notes. But now the instrument has been refined to respond to the slightest of touches.
“It let you express yourself in a very rich way, which is why flexible user interfaces will be important,” says Mann. “We need to get tactile information into a machine and back to the human.”
Having people in the feedback loop such that the human and computer are linked closely could lead to a new form of intelligence called ‘Humanistic Intelligence,’ says Mann. Ultimately this could lead to a reciprocal relationship, where a computer uses a person’s mind and body as as one of its peripherals, even as the human user thinks of the computer as a peripheral, he says.
The hydraulophone has been installed as a large scale public installation at the Ontario Science Center. There’s also a concert version with precise scale and range.
Mann and Janzen also recently built a hyadraulophone in a hot tub and showed it to Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak.
“He loved it!” says Mann.
Take a closer look at the hydraulophone shown at the Singularity conference and listen to what the instrument sounds like:
The hydraulophone has 12 water jets, one for each of the 12 notes.
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Photos: Priya Ganapati/Wired.com
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