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 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.
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.
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.