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The cold logic of digital displays made visceral–with ferrofluids

The cold logic of digital displays made visceral–with ferrofluids

While everyone is looking for the largest, most colorful, highest-resolution screens, it’s refreshing to see something as seemingly simple and as beautiful as Proteus: a black-and-white display that uses ferrofluids, a robotic arm, and magnetic fields to respond to your facial expressions. And it does it in a way that makes the ferrofluids look like an otherworldly biological entity.

On display until June 30 at the Ars Electronica Center in Linz, Switzerland, Proteus is a display that is composed of two parts. First, the display itself: a grid of petri dishes full of ferrofluid. Each of the glass containers acts like the pixels of a digital display, but, instead of turning on and off, they take many different forms based on an electromagnetic field.

The electromagnetic field is manipulated by a small robotic arm made by German robotics manufacturer Kuka. The arm moves the electromagnet under the petri dish grid, changing its position and frequency to impact the iron-based ferrofluid in the glass containers.

The arm is controlled by a software program that is connected to the second part of Proteus: a camera. The camera captures the faces of people in front of the display, tracking their expression in real time. Based on this on-the-fly analysis, the program moves the arm and modulates the electromagnetic pod attached to the end of it, dynamically changing the patterns in the display.

Proteus was created by Zurich-based architect, creative designer, and independent researcher Maria Smigieska in collaboration with Pierre Cutellic–a PhD fellow at Zurich’s Institute of Technology in Architecture who researches process design via machine learning and biological signals, but they could have told me that it was captured in the methane oceans of Titan, and I would have believed them.

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