Limbic Media

Limbic Media

Category: Art

How to Create a Holiday Light Show with Aurora

Limbic Media is entering its busiest season yet. Aurora-powered LED installations are going up around the world for the 2018 holiday season and beyond.

Aurora controls LED displays by interpreting sound and mapping that audio data into lighting design. While Aurora handles interpreting and mapping the subtleties of audio data, installers have the power of manipulating lighting design features through the Aurora Mobile App. This article guides you through how to create a holiday light show with Aurora for the 2018 holiday season using the Mobile App.

 

Aurora Singing Tree, Victoria, BC

 

The Aurora Mobile App offers a library of patterns, color palettes, and parameters to give users easy yet sophisticated light show customization. The App currently contains 9 patterns—the foundation of Aurora lighting design. Each pattern uniquely analyzes incoming audio data and maps it into specific lighting behavior. The App also contains 4 parameter sliders to adjust the speed, energy, variance, and decay of patterns. Parameters affect each pattern slightly differently, so we encourage experimenting with different combinations. Aurora also contains 24 color palettes.

Combining the patterns, parameters, and palettes give users thousands of design possibilities with no lighting design expertise required. These possibilities will only grow with continuous pattern, palette, and Mobile App development. Here’s how to create an effective holiday light show.

 

 

Step 1: Calibrate your audio input

To create a light show that intuitively reflects audio input, users must calibrate audio-reactive Aurora installations. Users can calibrate audio input in two ways—with auto gain or manual gain—depending on the audio input type. For example, an outdoor installation that responds to public interaction via microphone should be calibrated differently than an installation with an audio player or professional audio equipment plugged directly into Aurora.

Calibrate Aurora for music

Aurora installations that respond to music plugged directly into Aurora are most effective when calibrated for auto gain. This means that Aurora automatically creates light shows that are consistently responsive, no matter the volume level. If a song goes from extremely loud to very quiet, for example, the lighting design will reflect these dynamics, but not disappear completely.

To enable Auto Gain, ensure that you are connected to an Aurora installation via the Aurora Mobile App. Navigate to Device Settings > Audio Control. Select the appropriate input source, and enable Auto Gain:

 

Aurora Mobile App – Auto-Gain enabled

 

Next, adjust the level of your audio source—this could be the music volume coming from your mobile device or a professional DJ booth. Aim for the loudest sound to turn the audio select status LED (SEL) on the front of your Aurora controller yellow:

 

Aurora Pro Connector Interface – Audio Select Status LED (SEL) Illuminated

 

Calibrate Aurora for audience interaction

Aurora installations often use a USB microphone as audio input. This is popular for public spaces and holiday events, encouraging passers-by to engage with lighting design through their voices, claps, and other interactions.

These open environments used with a microphone tend to vary in audio levels and the frequency or intensity of audience interaction. This is not ideal for auto gain. For example, auto-gain allows Aurora to capture a sudden audio interaction (a clap or a loud voice) effectively—but automatically normalizes to that sound, leaving a follow-up interaction not as noticeable in contrast.

In these situations, you should use manual gain. This gives installers full control over how loud audio must be for Aurora to noticeably react. To enable manual gain, ensure that you are connected to an Aurora installation via the Aurora Mobile App. Navigate to Device Settings > Audio Control. Select the appropriate input source, and disable Auto Gain:

 

Aurora Mobile App – Manual Gain enabled

 

Adjust the Gain Boost slider until Aurora reacts to the desired level of audio input.

 

Step 2: Explore Aurora’s holiday color palettes

The color palettes available in the Aurora Mobile App are developed by Limbic Media’s creative team. The palette gradients are specifically designed to produce aesthetic light shows that look like they were created by a professional lighting designer. Custom color palettes, such as corporate colors for holiday events, can also be created on request—contact Limbic Media for more information.

For textbook holiday red/green shows, installers can choose from two red/green palettes:

 

Christmas color palette

Christmas

 

Red + Green = Yellow

 

There are also cool color palettes that work well for evoking wintery weather:

 

Christmas color palette

Off White

 

Christmas color palette

Winter

 

Christmas color palette

Cool White

 

Christmas color palette

All White

 

Warmer palettes are available for holiday installations aiming for a more traditional holiday look (think golds and blues):

 

Christmas color palette

Warm Yellow

 

Christmas color palette

Crest

 

Christmas color palette

Hot Coals

 

Christmas color palette

Sunrise

 

Christmas color palette

Royal

Step 3: Design a light show

Once you’ve calibrated your audio input and explored color palettes, you’re ready to dive into the fun part—creating light shows. Here’s how to use Show Mode or Live Control Mode in the Aurora Mobile App, as well as customize some holiday-themed patterns.

 

Use Show Mode or Live Control Mode

Users can operate Aurora lighting design in Show Mode or Live Control Mode under Device Control.

Live Control Mode allows you to adjust lighting patterns, palettes, and parameters in real-time in response to audio:

 

Aurora Mobile App

Aurora Mobile App – Live Control Mode

 

Show Mode allows you to create a sequence of predefined lighting pattern, palette, and parameter settings (cues). These cues play in sequence at specified time intervals. This helps add variation to a synchronized sound-to-light show. Ensure that preview is enabled while you’re adjusting cue settings:

 

Aurora Mobile App

Step 1 – Add a new cue


Aurora Mobile App – New Cue Screen. Turn Preview ON!


Step 3 – Show Mode with multiple cues

 

The Aurora Mobile App V1.5 also has a silence-detection feature for Show Mode, which automatically moves to the next cue when silence is detected. This is useful with song playlists, adding further variation between songs or after a musical pause. Enable the Advance Cue on Silence feature under Global Settings > Show Settings:

 

Aurora Mobile App – Advance Cue on Silence Enabled (App V1.5 or higher)


Create Holiday Patterns

Here are a few of our favorite holiday-themed patterns to create in Live Mode or Show Mode. Keep in mind that some of these patterns only work when arranged in a light grid, such as an LED curtain, canopy, or 3D cube. Installations without lights arranged in a grid (Singing Trees, for example) can be custom-mapped to better evoke 2D or 3D effects. Contact Limbic Media for details.


Snowflake

 

Capture subtle audio features through the intricate patterns of a snowflake. This effect is ideal for LED curtains or canopies that are mapped in a grid. Start with Twinkle as your pattern, a medium-high to high speed, medium energy, high variance, and low decay. Experiment with these lighting parameters to create the special snowflake you’re after:

 

Aurora Mobile App – “Snowflake” settings

Twinkling Stars

Create your own Christmas stars with Aurora’s Twinkle pattern. The twinkling star effect looks great with both cool and warm color palettes, as well as installations without lights arranged in a grid, such as Singing Trees.

The Twinkle pattern is based on the same pattern and parameter settings as a Snowflake—except with lowered speed. In the Twinkle pattern, a heightened speed affects the light arrangement of the lighting design, resulting in a snowflake-like shape.

Christmas Ball

Aurora’s Plasma pattern creates a moving Christmas ball or ornament, ideal for grid-mapped installations. Select Plasma as the pattern with low speed, high energy, low variance, and medium-low decay. Increasing the speed will affect the “bounciness” or movement of the ball:

 

Aurora Mobile App – “Christmas Ball” settings

 

These are just a few of the suggested lighting design combinations for holiday-themed installations. We recommend playing around with different palette, pattern, and parameter combinations to reinvent your traditional holiday lighting displays.

Contact Limbic Media for more ideas and lighting design support—we will be releasing the Aurora Pro Manual in the next week for a full description of Aurora patterns and parameter functions.

 

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Interactive Lighting Control is Opening New Doors for LED Applications

This article was written by Limbic Media’s CTO Manjinder Benning and republished with permission from LED Professional Review, an Austrian-based publication for innovators in LED technology.

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Advancements in lighting control technology are allowing for sophisticated interactivity in LED mapping. These new technologies are bridging the gap between lighting control and AI, with the ability to analyze and map data input (such as audio) in real-time. Installations driven by interactive LED control technologies have their place in a variety of application spaces. Manjinder Benning, Founder and CTO of Limbic Media, explains how this new technology works, what its applications are, and what the future of interactive lighting control looks like – not only for end-users, but also for lighting designers and technicians.

Interactivity is a growing feature of consumable technology. Public spaces – from shopping malls to schools, hospitals, and entertainment venues – are increasingly designed with human-centric, interactive approaches. Designers are recognizing the value of interactive technology in driving traffic, educating, healing, and entertaining over platforms that engage and connect people on a multi-sensory level.

This trend has only begun to influence LED applications – and new technologies are making interactive LEDs more sophisticated and accessible than ever before. This article describes the relevance of interactive technology in various industries, the existing state of interactive LED mapping, and outline an autonomous LED mapping technology that expands the current range of interactive LED applications.

 

Interactive stage lightin

 

Interactive technologies are growing in demand

The digital age has allowed anyone to curate information. With limited resources, millions are able to publish content and connect to global networks. People expect a greater level of participation and control over their digital environments. Much of our non-digital experiences remain unchanged despite this shift in digital experience. As a result, many facets of the real world struggle to stay relevant: Retail centres are losing revenue, university enrolments are declining, and community-centred activities are struggling to survive in the Netflix era.

Interactive technologies are becoming more common across spheres of public and private life to stay relevant and increase revenue:

  • Voice-controlled smart hubs are growing in popularity in private residences, creating a common interactive interface for a number of domestic devices.
  • Shopping malls are embracing interactive technologies, such as virtual try-on mirrors, interactive marketing displays, interactive LEDs on building facades (Singapore’s Illuma), virtual immersive experiences, and robotics.
  • Some theatres are testing multi-sensory experiences by manipulating temperatures, scents, and tactile experiences.
  • Education institutions of all levels are introducing more hands-on, interactive learning approaches, such as STEAM.

Implementation of these technologies through public art, entertainment, and education has uncovered many benefits. For participants, multi-sensory input elevates entertainment value, or conversely, calming synesthesia-like effects. It also appeals to various learning styles⁵⁶⁷ in educational settings. Interactive technologies benefit retail-focused spaces by increasing foot traffic and brand loyalty through customer engagement. They also transform under-utilized civic space into social hubs, improving public safety and revitalizing neighbourhoods.

It is clear that interactive, multi-sensory experiences are poised for rapid growth globally. Traditional sectors such as retail, entertainment, and education are struggling to catch up to our world’s digital transformation. These sectors are utilizing interactive technologies to bridge the gap between the digital and physical world. Modern LED technologies play an important but under-utilized role in interactive experiences.

 

Existing interactive LED technologies are limited

LED technologies have been under-utilized in the interactive marketplace for a number of reasons: interactive LED technology has been limited to simplistic sound-to-light interaction – and even in this application, achieving interactions is a laborious and expensive process.

 

Traditional sectors such as retail, entertainment, and education are struggling to catch up to our world’s digital transformation. These sectors are utilizing interactive technologies to bridge the gap between the digital and physical world. Modern LED technologies play an important but under-utilized role in interactive experiences.

 

Until now, interactive LED technology has been largely realized through automatic music-to-light mapping. Driving light fixtures from musical input, known as light organs, was first presented in a 1929 patent: The patent mechanically models light automatically from audio frequencies. A 1989 patent employed electrical resonant circuits to respond to low, medium, and high frequencies. Modern, digital music-to-light mapping systems have a number of advantages over these early systems. Computers can digitally process audio in real-time and extract control signals (energy in certain frequency bins, or tempo, for example) to more meaningfully map lighting schemes.

Some modern lighting control equipment, including hardware and software lighting consoles and VJ software systems, provide designer interfaces to map beat or frequency-based control signals to parameters that modulate lighting. For example, designers can map the amplitude of a 60-100 Hz frequency bin to DMX fixture brightness. This would create a visual “pumping” effect in response to bass.

This paradigm of manually connecting simple control signals – most often derived from the incoming audio signal frequencies—is closely modeled after the original light organ techniques from the 20th century. There has been little innovation in this field since its inception. In addition, mapping light interactions using this method is time-consuming for designers, and as a result, costly for consumers.

 

Potential beyond music-to-light mapping

Beyond music-to-light mapping for LED systems, there is great potential for other interactive data inputs. There has been an explosion, in recent years, for low-cost sensor technologies coupled with easy-to-use micro-controllers such as Raspberry PI. These technologies are capable of sensing data inputs from physical environments more cheaply, accurately, and easily than previously possible.

In terms of LED interactivity and mapping, data inputs could include:

  • Audio
  • Voice recognition
  • Motion detection
  • Data streams (from social media or other live inputs such as weather patterns)

Some commercially-available software products, such as the Isadora system, enable complex input/output system building. This allows designers to map a variety of inputs (such as sensors) to multimedia outputs, such as projections or audio effects. Again, using LEDs as output is largely unexplored.

Although very well designed and capable of dealing with complexity, existing systems still require expert designers to inform mappings between inputs and outputs, and to direct visualizations as inputs change and evolve. No existing technology has been capable of autonomously listening to data input, monitoring output, and learning to make intelligent decisions to map LED visuals over time.

 

Interactive dj lighting

 

This article discusses a new paradigm in interactive LED control: artificially intelligent systems that eliminate the programming expertise, time, and cost required to create advanced interactive LED experiences. Such a system intuitively recognizes distinct input features (from audio or otherwise) in real-time. Input features are mapped according to human-based preferences, without direct human control. This makes interactive LED applications more accessible and less costly to a variety of industries seeking interactive solutions, while elevating user experiences.

 

LED control that maps inputs and drives output autonomously

Imagine an LED installation that intuitively “listens to” audio or other real-time data input and adapts accordingly, learning over time, with no human intervention. This new approach to interactive LED mapping uses an “intelligent” system based on mainly three key elements.

interactive lighting platform

Fig. 1

 

The system is composed of:

  • A temporal correlation unit (110). This acts like a brain, inputting, processing, recording, retrieving, and outputting data. Data inputs can include audio (either from a microphone or line-in audio), motion detection sensor inputs from a camera, data streams (from weather patterns, the stock exchange, tallied votes, or social media, for example), or interfaces that request data input from an audience
  • An oscillator (140). This perturbs the inputs, introducing variation to the LED output. This produces light interactions that are lively, dynamic, and less predictable to the viewer
  • A signal mixer unit (150). This mixes input signals in various ways to create different outputs

The temporal correlation unit references input signals for distinct features, and determines how the oscillator and signal mixer unit behave in response. The system also determines how the output signal spans through a specific color space.

interactive lighting platform

Fig. 2

Figure 3 expands on potential external inputs (120). As with prior technology, the system analyzes binned frequency content (210, 235) and time domain envelopes (215). In addition, the system recognizes and classifies higher-level musical features (220).

Some examples include:

  • Percussion/other specific instruments
  • Vocal qualities
  • Musical genre
  • Key
  • Dissonance and harmony
  • Sentiment
  • Transitions (e.g. from verse to chorus)

The system also interprets nonmusical data inputs (225) in real-time. This includes non-musical audio features, such as speech recognition or environmental sounds (rain, wind, lightning, or footsteps), or the other non-audio data inputs previously described.

Features can be reflected as LED-mapped output in many ways. LED parameters such as motion, color palette, brightness, and decay adapt to reflect specific data input features. This creates LED displays that are more intuitively-mapped to human preferences than previous light-mapping technology. The system’s ability to map intuitively and autonomously in real-time heightens the users’ multi-sensory experience and potential for LED interactivity.

 

Referenced Data Input Determines LED Mapping

An intelligent LED mapping system relies on referenced input signals. The system analyzes new data input for familiar features based on referenced input stored in the temporal correlation unit. Over time, the system optimizes database searches. This allows it to predict input features from audio or other data streams, and create a more intuitive, real-time visual LED output on its own.

The system’s ability to map intuitively and autonomously in real-time heightens the users’ multi-sensory experience and potential for LED interactivity.

When the temporal correlation unit has been adequately trained, it can predict human listeners’ preferences, and map LEDs accordingly for musical, other audio, and non-audio inputs. This system provides a more intuitive, engaging user experience with no need for customized LED programming knowledge or real-time human control:

  • The temporal correlation unit trains itself to map output effectively in three ways:The system acts as a neural network by comparing new data inputs to similar inputs stored in the system’s database. New output features are modeled after those of referenced inputs. This allows the system to quickly reference previous lighting output configurations rather than creating them on the fly.Previous technology requires a technician to manually choose which lighting cues to load and when, whereas this system automatically chooses which cues to load and when. Neural networks can also be supervised. In a supervised neural network, the system recognizes specific data input features that indicate audience approval of the LED mapped output. These input features could include: manual switches, face recognition, or voice recognition that indicate emotional states. This serves to further refine the system’s output choices according to human preferences.

 

  • The system can also utilize evolutionary algorithms. Evolutionary algorithms are used in artificially intelligent systems – they are modeled after selection mechanisms found in evolutionary biology (firefly attraction, ant pheromone trail setting, and bird flocks, for example) to optimize data searches.Evolutionary algorithms, such as a genetic algorithm, allow an LED control system to independently find and select the most effective lighting outputs without human control. As with a supervised neural network, the system governed by genetic algorithms seeks specific audience cues that suggest approval of the mapped LED output. This serves as a fitness function, training the temporal correlation unit to respond to real-time input signals. Third way of the system to train itself

 

  • Similarly to evolutionary algorithms, a system can utilize interacting intelligent agents. Agents also mimic natural patterns in code by responding to specific, predefined rules (e.g. a specific frequency produces a certain color space). Each agent applies a set of rules to generate temporal sequences for LED mappings, again seeking audience cues to train the system how to respond appropriately to input.Agent rules can be parametric. For example, rule parameters are determined by the physical arrangement of LEDs in 2D or 3D installations. A suite of techniques known as nature inspired algorithms, which are modeled after naturally occurring patterns, are a credible source for generative content when considering lighting output. This approach works particularly well with large numbers of LED pixels.

 

Implications of technology for industries and end-users

An intuitive method of mapping LEDs according to human preferences means that multi-sensory, interactive lighting are more immersive and emotive than ever before. An intelligent, autonomous LED control system has many benefits and applications for end-users and various sectors.

Interactive LED lighting at a climbing gym in Victoria, BC

Benefits for end-users:

  • Educational programs can use such systems to leverage multi-sensory, interdisciplinary curriculums that address various learning styles
  • Holiday, architectural, and other lighting companies that already employ LED technologies, can use the system to employ a more interactive, human-centric approach to design
  • Retail centres can use the system’s interactivity, particularly live social media hashtags as data input, to attract customers and leverage brand presence online
  • Cities can incorporate the system in their efforts to revitalize public space by:
    • Investing in interactive, public art using LEDs
    • Visualizing data gathered through smart city initiatives
    • Attracting foot traffic to business areas
    • Improving public safety
    • Place making and creating community focal points
  • Clubs, venues, and AV teams can quickly and effectively create improved visual effects for live performances and DJs
  • Public centres and exhibition venues that adhere to redesign cycles can adapt the system with changing data input types and LED configurations to refresh displays year after year
  • Non-technical users are able to access sophisticated interactive technology without custom programming or design knowledge
  • Users can avoid the time and cost associated with creating and maintaining interactive LED displays
  • LED displays can be controlled and scaled across multiple locations at a lower cost

 

Implications for technicians

It is often assumed that technological advances, particularly using AI, have the potential to destroy jobs. The described system simplifies or removes the programming process, making the technology more accessible and affordable than previous interactive LED technologies – but this does not necessarily imply job obsolescence for lighting designers and technicians. The technology will only change and improve the state of the art in the future, providing a number of benefits for industry professionals.

Benefits for professionals:

  • Provides a sophisticated tool for the lighting designers that can be used in conjunction with existing professional lighting protocols such as DMX
  • Saves lighting designers programming time
  • Allows designers to scale large projects at a lower cost
  • Opens the door to a wider variety of LED applications in industries outside the current status quo
  • Allows designers to manipulate lighting schemes with data input other than music
  • Allows designers to improve or incorporate audience interactivity

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Interactive technologies are poised for global growth, allowing various industries to offer engaging, multi-sensory experiences in non-digital settings. Applying interactivity to LED technologies opens a variety of doors into a number of sectors looking to attract, engage, and educate communities in settings that struggle to stay relevant in our digital world.

Until recent advancements in LED control technology, mapping data input to lighting design has been limited to audio input using age-old light organ techniques. While low-cost and easy to use micro-controllers such as Raspberry PI have opened new doors in LED mapping, the process still requires skilled lighting designers and programmers. The cost and time associated with creating and maintaining interactive LED displays using these methods has made interactive LED applications costly and inaccessible to a variety of industries and audiences.

interactive public art

A new technology, outlined in “System and Method for Predictive Generation of Visual Sequences,” addresses these barriers to new LED applications by controlling LED interactivity autonomously yet elegantly. The system analyzes data input, including music, non-musical audio, and non-audio data streams for distinct input features. Input features are mapped into distinct LED output parameters based on human preferences, and indexed into the system’s database. This indexing allows the system to autonomously predict upcoming data input and intelligently refine its output over time.

The system’s design avoids the need for timely human programming and maintenance, creates LED mapping that looks aesthetically detailed and intuitive, and allows real-time interaction from a variety of data inputs. This has clear benefits to the LED lighting industry: it opens doors to new applications in various sectors seeking interactive solutions for consumers. It creates heightened multi-sensory, end-user experiences. It offers a sophisticated tool for lighting technicians and professional designers.

 

References:

[5] Johnson, Gretchen L., and Edelson, Jill R.. “Integrating Music and Mathematics in the Elementary Classroom.” Teaching Children Mathematics, Vol. 9, No. 8, April 2003, pp. 474-479.
[6] Wilmes, Barbara, Harrington, Lauren, Kohler-Evans, Patty, and Sumpter, David. “Coming to Our Senses: Incorporating Brain Research Findings into Classroom Instruction.” Education, Vol. 128, No. 4, Summer 2008, pp. 659-666.
[7] Kast, Monika, Baschera, Gian-Marco, Gross, Markus, Jäncke, Lutz & Meyer, Martin. “Computer-based learning of spelling skills in children with and without dyslexia.” Annals of Dyslexia, 12 May, 2011, DOI: 10.1007/s11881-011-0052-2

From Glowflow to Burning Man: The Evolution of Interactive Media

Want to learn more about interactive media? Contact us about Aurora.

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On day 3 of the 2012 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, onlookers were captivated by a computer-generated recreation of Tupac Shakur to perform with Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. The animation used projection mapping in combination with a theatrical technique called “Pepper’s Ghost” to create a 3D holographic effect. The project employed a team of 20 artists, lighting designers, and technicians to create an unexpected, immersive audience experience.

Festival season is upon us, and with it comes more opportunities to showcase and explore interactive media. From music, to performance art, to technology-based installations, the event lead-up is a full-time engagement for artists, technologists, and festival organizers seeking to stand out in what has become a multi-billion dollar industry worldwide. Technology has hugely influenced festivals’ ability to engage audiences with interactive media. Where has this attraction for interactive and technology-driven media come from, and how is it impacting other public spaces?

 

Computer mapped Tupac

Virtual Tupac at Coachella 2012

 

Interactive Media is Not A New Concept

Technological developments of the last half-century have breathed a new novelty into the concept of interactivity. Physically and emotionally participating in entertainment, which was the norm, became less common after the relatively recent advent of “passive” entertainment, like television and cinema.

 

“The reason we suddenly need such a word [as interactivity] is that during this century we have for the first time been dominated by non-interactive forms of entertainment: cinema, radio, recorded music and television.

Before they came along all entertainment was interactive: theater, music sport — the performers and audience were together, and even a respectfully silent audience exerted a powerful shaping presence on the unfolding of whatever drama they were there for.

We didn’t need a special word for interactivity in the same way that we don’t (yet) need a special word for people with only one head.”

—Douglas Adams, How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Internet

 

Technology moved us away from interactive media, and ironically, technology is orienting us back to those original values when it comes to art and leisure—perhaps in an even bigger way than before TV. As much as technology has the power to isolate us, interactive media today is also more accessible, more invigorating on a multisensory level, and more likely to establish a genuine human connection than ever before.

 

Technology Has Revitalized Interactive Media

Using technology to create new forms of interactive media goes back to the mid-20th century. In the 1950s and 60s, Morton Leonard Heilig was one of the first to create VR in response to the passive experience of cinema.

 

“Without the active participation of a spectator, there can be no transfer of consciousness, no art.”

—Morton Leonard Heilig

 

Sensorama, which was patented in 1962, was a prototype for what he imagined would become “experience theatre.” It combined a stereoscopic 3D colour display, stereo sound, fans, olfactory dispensers, and tilted, vibrational seating to provide single viewers with a multisensory experience over the course of a short film. Heilig was unable to find funding to get Sensorama to industry players, and the project dissolved.

 

virtual reality sensorama Morton heeling

Morton Heilig’s Sensorama

 

7 years later, Myron Krueger developed one of the earliest forms of computer-based interactive art. Glowflow was first installed at the University of Wisconsin’s Memorial Union Gallery. Pressure-sensitive pads were activated by viewers’ footsteps, triggering a real-time visual response from phosphorescent tubes and aural response from a Moog synthesizer. Glowflow was one of such interactive environments that lead to Krueger’s cornerstone project, Videoplace, in 1988. Videoplace is an artificial reality laboratory that creates reactionary light art out of viewers’ motion.

Much of Krueger’s work was motivated by a desire to redesign computers by addressing features that take away from an inherent human desire to connect and interact.

 

“There were things I resented about computers. I resented the fact that I had to sit down to use them. I resented the fact that I was using a hundred-year-old device to operate them—a keyboard—and the fact…that it was denying that I had a body of any kind, and that it was all perceptual, sort of, symbolic.”

—Myron Krueger

 

interactive media virtual reality Myron Krueger

Myron Krueger’s Videoplace

 

Krueger modeled Videoplace after the relationship that artists and musicians have with their tools, seeking to create a type of computer that people could experience rather than use for the sole purpose of efficiency. The first rendition of Videoplace superimposed Krueger’s hand-drawn data tablet doodles onto a screen in the Memorial Union Gallery a mile away. The doodles would appear to interact with viewers’ shadows, which were also projected onto the screen in real-time. Almost by accident, Krueger noticed that viewers were most engaged when their motion appeared to create the doodles.

 

“We discovered that there was this very natural desire to identify with the image on the screen. Their image was them, and they expected it to do things in the video world as much as it did in the physical world. It was as if evolution had prepared us for seeing ourselves on television screens combined with computer images.”

 

Suddenly, here was a real, tangible example of how technology had the potential to bring human connection full-circle—back to what interactive media had done for us prior to the age of passive media. From VR to public art, interactive media has come a long way since Videoplace.

 

Burning Man: A Lasting Example Interactive Media’s “Rebirth”

Unlike static art, interactive media is unique by involving the viewer in its creation, forming a platform for human connection and community. Passive media is presented with the intention of presenting audiences with a static piece to derive meaning from, rather than involving their participation in the media’s creation and forming a community from that involvement. A good example of the rebirth of interactive media, especially as it relates to the growth of art festivals, is Burning Man.

On June 22, 1986, Larry Harvey and Jerry James built an 8-foot human figure out of scrap wood in their Noe Valley basement. They hauled the wooden man down to Baker Beach and quickly drew an audience of close to 40 people as flames engulfed the figure. Before you could say gasoline, the spontaneous hootenanny was singing a fire-themed tune on the fly, and a woman was literally hand-in-hand with the pyro-masterpiece.

 

“That was the first spontaneous performance…that was the first geometric increase of Burning Man. What we had instantly created was a community. And…you know if we had done it as an art event, people would have come, and come to the gallery or something, and said ‘It’s very interesting, perhaps a little derivative, what are you going to do next?’”

—Lee Harvey

 

The festival has since grown into a 70,000-person gathering based on the values of immediacy, participation, communal effort, radical self-expression and self-reliance, egalitarianism, and creativity—so unsurprisingly, the festival has become a global platform for the convergence of art and innovative interactive media, informing values within the tech industry (and perhaps vice versa). What began as a novel concept associated with underground movements became its own city with the power to impact the culture and values behind one of North America’s largest industries.

 

 

Interactive Media’s Impact

Aside from influential Burners taking those core values back to the office after Labour Day each year, the impact of cultural phenomena like Burning Man has been a driving force behind the evolution of interactive media. Interactive media has re-infiltrated mainstream society, evolving in just a few decades from what was once associated with counterculture and festivals or niche, university-affiliated galleries like Videoplace.

Interactive technology and art are increasingly incorporated into civic space and public institutions like art galleries, science centres, shopping malls, and schools. Those behind designing and coordinating these spaces are realizing the advantage that interactivity has over passive forms of media in community building and increasing a return audience. Growing public values in interactive media are also expanding the tech industry, leveraging advances in interactive technologies like wearable tech, sound-to-light mapping, motion-tracking, VR and AI.

 

interactive public art

Montréal’s Impulsedezeen.com photo

 

Passive media is still the norm for a culture built on Netflix. But the values behind traditional forms of interactive media has been experiencing a rebirth over the last few decades, thanks to innovators like Myron Krueger and events like Burning Man—and the technology behind our ability to realize those values is growing every day.

An Interactive Lighting Case Study with Aurora

Interactive Lighting Case Study

 

Real estate developers often invest in hoardings for big projects—on-site marketing signage that describes future developments. As opposed to online, radio, and print ads, hoardings are highly cost-effective marketing investments for developers, providing large-scale project awareness 24/7. Vancouver-based developer Belford Properties took their hoarding for Sun Towers Metrotown to the next level. Faced with the challenge of promoting Sun Towers while building long-term community relationships throughout the development, Belford partnered with a local organization and turned the hoarding into an interactive public art display.

The result was a 30×170-foot billboard combining community art with interactive technology. The billboard transformed public space across from BC’s largest shopping centre, Metropolis at Metrotown, into an interactive boulevard. The Metrotown project inspired Limbic Media’s Interactive Art Wall concept, an engaging art installation with multiple applications for civic space, retail and holiday displays, and any organization looking to increase ROI through public engagement and community placemaking. This week, we are taking you through Limbic Media’s process for this project, from the initial collaboration and concept to the final installation.

 

 

A Concept for Community Building

 

“If you want 10 years of prosperity, grow trees. If you want 100 years of prosperity, grow people.”

 

This is the proverb that initially inspired Belford to collaborate with Burnaby Neighbourhood House, a volunteer-driven social service agency. BNH supports programs and services that address local community needs. Understanding that youth have an enormous impact on community futures, the two organizations joined forces to support youth art education over the course of Belford’s 3-year development.

 

“Belford believes that youth can have a huge impact on community, helping to shape the future with new ideas through education and art. An investment in youth and education is much more rewarding than one can imagine, especially in the community that they grow up in. That type of investment is something we keenly sought out, hoping to work with an organization that places such an importance on education and art with children in the neighbourhood. We found that organization, Burnaby Neighbourhood House, and let the kids do their thing.”

—Belford Properties

 

Interactive Lighting Case Study Public Art

 

Their vision resulted in a public art concept surrounding the theme of rain + sunshine = growth to encourage yearly donations to BNH’s youth art programs. The 3-year project has three phases: the first, inspired by Greater Vancouver’s notoriously heavy rainfall, features umbrellas and rainbows. The second phase, scheduled for Spring 2019, features sunshine-themed drawings, and the third will display the fruits of that nourishment—growing flowers, bees, and nature. BNH and Belford commissioned art for the first phase to children currently in BNH arts programs. Their pieces were then scaled to fit the hoarding.

 

Interactive Lighting Case Study

 

Interactive public art not only fosters a sense of community and placemaking, but also increases brand awareness, foot traffic, public safety in surrounding areas, and overall ROI. Hangar 18, the project’s design and branding consultant, reached out to us to create an interactive lighting component for the billboard.

 

Designing and Integrating the Aurora Platform

Limbic Media’s role was to design the lighting component of the installation and integrate an Aurora system with a coin box to allow for donations. The vision was to literally “make it rain” when coins are inserted, offering passers-by a lightshow in exchange for their donations. Limbic Media used Hangar 18’s concept drawing as a template for the lighting design.

 

Interactive Lighting Case Study

 

Our team at Limbic Media was responsible for designing the layout of Minleon Pebble Light strands over the concept art, spec out project requirements, and do custom programming to evoke rainfall and rainbow effects. The project required 61 light strands of various lengths, totaling 2,075 pebble lights. Projects of this scale require multiple Network Distribution Boxes (NDBs) along with a network switch to effectively supply power and data from Aurora across all the lights. The next step was to parse the billboard’s light strands into 9 sections; one section of light strands for each NDB. Because all the technical components would be hidden behind the billboard, the project also required leader cables of various lengths to connect the beginning of each light strand with its respective NDB.

 

Interactive Lighting Case Study

 

The Interactive Art Wall was Limbic Media’s first time integrating Aurora with a coin box. Our lead design engineer created a new Aurora pattern to achieve a rainfall effect for the pebble lights. The coin box was then integrated with its own microcontroller, programmed to speak to Aurora: in resting mode, Aurora tells the light strands to evoke a subtle version of the rainfall pattern. When coins are donated to the box, it triggers an algorithm that intensifies the rainfall pattern’s brightness and speed, slowly diminishing until the the more subtle resting pattern is achieved.

 

Interactive Lighting Case Study

 

Limbic Media’s design process was a team effort, involving sales staff, engineers, and a technical lead to spec out and price the project—all while liaising with Hangar 18 and Belford to meet the project’s vision and timeline. Once the installation was set up at Limbic Media and passed for QA, we sent the equipment with our lead design engineer to oversee and support the onsite installation process alongside Belford, and make final tweaks to the project’s custom programming.

 

Interactive Lighting Case Study

 

Project Outcomes

The Interactive Art Wall was a huge success as an alternative to the average hoarding. Unlike a regular marketing billboard, the display’s interactivity increased a community-building ROI in addition to potential monetary gains. Lighting and interactivity leveraged Belford’s marketing for the Sun Towers development by encouraging public participation in the display and also increased awareness of BNH and their impact on community initiatives. By providing an opportunity for hashtags and social media engagement, the interactive display created an additional marketing tool for both Belford and BNH. The interactive hoarding captured Belford’s vision as a developer that is mindful of its surrounding community and involved in its long-term, people-based goals.

 

“With the addition of these beautifully installed LED lights around the drawings on the wall, we are able to raise public awareness not only in the daytime but also attract lots of attention at night. Our Art Wall has soon become a popular sight visiting point in the area which gives us chances to interact with the public. The lights are one of the key elements in this charity fundraising event. On behalf of Belford Properties, we are very pleased with how the addition of the lighting has attracted a tremendous amount of attention to our Charity Art Wall project.”

—Chris Ba, Belford Properties

 

Providing a reward for donations to the initiative in the form of a light show also piqued public interest from passers-by in a way that stand-alone donations boxes can’t. The hoarding brightened the thoroughfare at Beresford Street, potentially increasing return foot traffic to the area. Overall, interactivity at the Metrotown installation played a crucial role in placemaking and fostering community development out of what would otherwise remain a typical urban development on an ordinary roadway. If you find yourself near Metrotown Station over the next few years, check out the installation, make a donation, and be sure to share your interaction on social media with #celebratebby.

 

Interactive Lighting Case Study

 

The Interactive Art Wall concept has potential across multiple applications. Light fixture styles and custom patterns can be adapted for unique themes and mounted against a variety of backdrops and settings. If you are interested in combining interactivity with a similar concept or initiative, contact us today to brainstorm ideas.

 

Photos by Mandy Jin at WeTopia.

Interview: Challenges and Trends Facing the Holiday Lighting Installation Industry

Planning holiday lighting installations might be off the average homeowner’s radar for several more months—but for those in the commercial holiday lighting industry, projects are already in the planning phase. We talked to Darren Vader of Lumyn Immersive Media about the challenges and trends facing the holiday lighting and installation industry. Darren is the founder of The Christmas Light Emporium and Extreme Lightscapes, and has years of experience in the holiday installation industry.

 

What do your companies do, and is it possible to survive year-round in the holiday lighting industry?

This depends on what aspect of the season lighting industry a company is involved in. I see the market as having basically three top level segments: residential services, commercial services and retail/wholesale/commercial product sales.

My companies are involved in technology design and consulting for commercial projects and retail/wholesale product sales. I focus heavily on creating the highest perceived value possible. This allows me to design higher-end displays, pieces and light shows using the highest quality components available, while often implementing technology that is light years ahead of others in the market. All of these things mean I have a longer sales cycle—way longer than those who focus on residential and a good bit longer that those who only focus on commercial installation. So for me, it is absolutely a year-round focus. I spend the first half of the year selling new projects and the second half of the year doing onsite consulting/installation and managing our retail operation.

 

I would say that most companies involved in the seasonal lighting industry are more focused on what I call “right-now revenue’” rather than on providing long-term value for their customers.

 

For residential services, we are chiefly talking about Christmas light installers. It is not common to see a full time, year-round business with no other revenue stream. The most successful residential installers will have a few key staff that are full time/year-round and a vastly higher number of staff that are seasonal only. They also tend to pad revenue with other services such as landscaping or landscape lighting. I always tell my friends in the residential space who are successful that it’s not their skill at light installation that makes them good at what they do—it’s the fact that they are masters of logistics.

I would say that most companies involved in the seasonal lighting industry are more focused on what I call “right-now revenue’” rather than on providing long-term value for their customers. This is especially true in the residential holiday lighting installation market where a huge majority of service providers are small teams just trying to monetize on a season-by-season basis, and do not run full-time seasonal lighting operations. There are a lot of larger, successful companies in this space, but there are far more who are 1—4 person, seasonal-only operations just looking for “right-now revenue.”

 

Commercial Holiday LED Lighting Installation

Extreme Lightscapes: New Orleans Christmas in the District

 

Commercial service providers typically are able to command a higher price point for their services because it requires an advanced set of skills and new logistical challenges. The venues are almost always much larger. The installation time, equipment and logistics of working in public spaces are far more complex than in the residential space. I would say that a majority of companies specializing in large commercial installations are likely to be full-time, year-round operations even if with a limited staff. This is the segment within which technology specialists such as myself and my companies exist. Technology services and consulting for complex lighting installations is an underserved niche market that requires a very unique combination of right-brain/left-brain thinking.

Retail/Wholesale/Commercial Product Sales: this is where a good bit of the real magic happens. Manufacturers and retail/wholesale entities who have the foresight to create new and exciting products for use by commercial and residential installers are the ones who drive innovation in the seasonal lighting industry. Often they are being pushed by folks like myself and others in the residential and commercial services space who are constantly demanding new and innovative products. All of the larger commercial product companies are certainly year-round operations. There are a few retailers of seasonal lighting who are able to operate full-time as well. But most of them are supplementing with some level of marketing toward patio/landscape lighting, event lighting or even municipal and general lighting products.

Regardless of which segment of the seasonal lighting industry a company participates, I believe that whether or not a company can make a full time/year-round business out of it is chiefly based on their ability to create designs, services and products that are impressive enough to command a high-perceived value. You have to build a reputation as being one of the best in the industry nationally or even internationally in order to command top dollar and top margins, and afford to work on Christmas all year long!

 

Commercial holiday lighting installation

Photo: Extreme Lightscapes

 

How do seasonal holiday installers survive in the off-season?

Residential installers who do not run a company full-time are very often firemen, policemen, landscapers or otherwise employed in an opposing seasonal field. Residential installation companies who are full time will almost always also offer landscape or landscape lighting services to keep some cash flow rolling during other parts of the year.

 

What are the biggest challenges facing holiday installers today?

As a business owner, I think the biggest challenges are:

  • Increasing product costs from overseas manufacturers
  • Difficulty in keeping up with changes in technology and its knowledge curve
  • Maintaining the ability to create designs, services and products that are impressive enough to command a high-perceived value

 

How do you see those challenges being addressed?

Manufacturing of holiday lighting on the high end has somewhat shifted to Europe, but that makes the cost very high. I think that in the future we will see some of the larger European companies open manufacturing facilities in the U.S.. I already see some U.S. companies in the commercial product space who are taking European style and having similar designs produced in Asia at a much lower price point. When it comes to the basic components—lighting, technology and supplies – if costs of production continue to increase in Asia, I see the possibility of U.S. distributors moving production to places like Mexico and the Philippines or other areas where cost can be brought back down a bit.

Keeping up with technology will always be a challenge. It is a generational thing. Just like my generation was the first Internet generation, we are now getting “schooled” by our kids, who are the first social media generation. In a similar fashion, I was part of the first generation of seasonal lighting technologists. I am very often getting “schooled” by the next/younger generation of technologists who, for example, are fluent with and have pushed the limits of what can be achieved with RGB lighting and control systems. At some point I feel like we have to move beyond being hands on with it ourselves and focus more on the theoretical—coming up with visions, inventions and ideas that are superior to what exist right now—and then hire the next/younger generation to build out those visions! Much like the Apple, Steve Jobs approach to technology.

 

Interactivity and immersive environments and displays. This is the same mantra being chanted in every corner of all segments of the event production space.

 

Maintaining the ability to bring to market designs and technologies that have a high-perceived value, I think, is just a matter of never getting bored. You have to absolutely love seasonal lighting. When you stop loving it more than everyone else, you will stop caring about creating things with a high-perceived value. If you don’t value your ideas, neither will anyone else.

 

Multi-sensory LED light tunnel

Extreme Lightscapes Tunnel

 

What current trends are you seeing in installation projects?

Interactivity and immersive environments and displays. This is the same mantra being chanted in every corner of all segments of the event production space. The human condition is so complex, and getting more so year by year, that people are becoming desensitized to what we have known as common visual and audio stimulants. The world is so audibly and visually “noisy” that we have to cut through all the mess by offering interactive displays, immersive environments and advanced sensory experiences in order to capture people’s attention, bring their minds into a peaceful zone (or a party zone, or a reflective zone, or whatever happens to be appropriate for the environment) and give them something important that will tell a story on behalf of the producer.

 

If it wasn’t for my focus on technology, I’d just be another miscellaneous commercial lighting installer.

 

When it comes to how: RGB RGB RGB RGB. European design. Video mapping—both using traditional projectors and more recently by using RGB pixel grids and feeding them video content. Sound, motion reactivity, physical interaction, etc.

 

What are the differences in the demands you get from commercial vs. residential clients?

I would say that commercial installers are being hit with all of the tending demand we just mentioned. They are being asked to execute these interactive and immersive visions within often very tight budgets. Residential installers I think have a completely different challenge. Residential buyers are notoriously “best price” shoppers without much regard to who the best person is for the job.

 

Up to how much do clients pay (residential vs. commercial) for their installations?

This is all over the map. I focus on commercial projects. My average project is probably around $100,000 with a huge range of $50,000-$1million, with a mean budget probably around $50,000-$75,000.

For residential installers, the range is also very wide. Most of the non-full-time, one-man operations are also wildly undercutting the full-time installers and and probably average around $200-$300 and focus on 1-story or smaller 2-story neighborhoods. At the same time, I know several full-time residential installation companies who have a $1,000 minimum per project and they are extremely successful. Their clients are typically wealthy neighborhoods and small commercial venues (small shopping centers, stand alone restaurants, etc).

 

Do you ever have clients request holiday installs that are also adaptable for year-round use?

Rarely. This is something that I am trying to educate my customers on. A seasonal display that is truly designed to bring out the feeling of the holidays is never going to be something you want left up all year long in its entirety. But we almost always are including components within those displays that most certainly could and should be considered for permanent, all-year use. This is especially true of some of the interactive displays and many components that use RGB lighting systems or projection. These systems are relatively easy to create new content for changing times of the year.

 

LED Christmas tree light show

Extreme Lightscapes Installation at Dallas Zoo

 

What role does new technology play in your business?

Massive. It’s all I do. This is what makes my company unique. There are not many of us in the seasonal lighting business who only focus on new technology. This doesn’t mean that I don’t do anything else, but new technology is always what we lead with and it is what my companies are known for. There are only a small handful of others who approach seasonal lighting this way who are full-time operators. If it wasn’t for my focus on technology, I’d just be another miscellaneous commercial lighting installer.

 

Is interactivity a growing component of the holiday lighting install industry?

Absolutely. And not just with technology. One of the most popular types of display pieces I have included in my designs recently has been 3-dimensional pieces that people can walk through or touch. This year I am pushing these limits with the vision to bring to market solutions that are both 3-dimensional walk-through piece and immersive, multi-sensory experiences. I fully believe that this is where the market is heading. And there are a million different ways to bring this vision to fruition. I believe that the immersive movement will last for a while into the future.

 

What are some examples of interactive installations you’ve done?

Walk-through ornaments, stars, tunnels, light show tunnels, sound-to-light, Santa set built inside a light-show tree, next step—multi-sensory displays!

 

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Adventures in Perception: Aurora

Limbic Media’s Project Technical Lead, Jason Sanche, recently wrote about Aurora in a paper for a university course on Neuroaesthetics. Jason is finishing his Computer Science degree at the University of Victoria and couldn’t have timed this article better with our recent posts about multisensory technologies and their effect on brain development and behavior. The following was adapted from a series of papers exploring perceptual experiences inspired by the artists’ discoveries and insights with specific artworks, and in this case, Aurora.

 

Aurora QA Station

 

Aurora: An Exploration in Perception

This article is an exploration of my perceptual and aesthetic experience of Aurora, a software platform developed by Limbic Media to map intricate sound qualities to light. Aurora listens and recognizes subtleties of sound and displays sound as patterns and shapes within two- and three-dimensional matrices of LED light. Aurora elegantly visualizes music with the subtlety of a musician’s ear.

Sounds have incredible texture, depth and emotional resonance, but these facets of sound often go unnoticed. Input from other senses, thoughts, and emotions, especially with the proliferation of screens, continually eclipses our simple awareness of sound. Subtleties get sublimated into the background of our experience. However, the act of listening attentively realigns the mind with time in a  constant, steady, somatic-acoustic present awareness. By showing sound as light, Aurora leverages the domination of visual stimuli and brings attention to sound.

Aurora’s hardware technology is, as Marshall McLuhan would say, an extension of our senses. In the same way, Aurora’s software is an extension of our minds and its neural and perceptual networks. Aurora performs similarly to synaesthesia—a perceptual phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. We naturally create images when hearing sounds, which might be an inherited survival trait to anticipate danger from threatening sounds. Incredibly, it also applies to appealing sounds like beautiful music. With our eyes closed and our attention narrowed in on music and the field of mental images, a synaesthetic effect involuntarily transforms sound into mental imagery. Aurora extends this phenomenon into shared space.

The following is a subjective exploration of this idea as a written stream of consciousness about the experience of Aurora reacting to a piece of music:

 

As the music streams from its digital storage on a cloud of distributed data into the physical network of this room, through my computer, through the mixer and into Aurora which, in real time, processes the signal through digital filters, determined by code, transformed into patterns and colors imitating the harmonies, rhythms and beats, transmuted into bursts of photons varied by a full visible spectrum of color and coordinated patterns with the complexity of the wave patterns in the ocean and captured by my eyes, translated in the optical nerve back into electrical impulses, and again, in real time, perceived as what I believe is sentient to the experience and understood as meaningful. As I write and watch the dancing lights, making the music more beautiful, I perceive and write and know this harmony of embodied sensory experience augmented by technology-as-art.

 

The study of neuroaesthetics looks at how the mind perceives and attaches meaning to art, beauty, and ugliness, how we fixate on and identify value, and how art produces emotional reactions. A system like Aurora provides a rich and fascinating angle to explore interactivity in neuroaesthetics, and specifically how the perceptual feedback of sound visualization plays into the brain’s implicit synaesthesia.

When sound-to-image happens externally, how does that affect our internal imagination of sounds and music? How important is sound-to-image synaesthesia to our ability to thrive culturally and socially? Can technology like Aurora produce a shared synaesthesia similar to shared public experiences during a film, concert or theatre performance? In participatory public theatre like Sleep No More, the play creates an immersive experience by breaking down divisions between actors and the audience. Can Aurora similarly produce immersive shared participatory musical synaesthetic experiences? The potential is there.

 

Innovation Tree, Victoria, BC

 

Art’s Role in Imagined Embodiment

Imagined embodiment has been a common theme throughout my explorations in perception. The mind constantly reinterprets its sense of self and embodiment in the world through imagination and dreaming, and the habitual sense of self is usually reinforced if we are unconscious of this process. However, with the right attention and tenacity, we can have full control over our self identity and full freedom from its limiting influence on our inhibitions. Anyone can imagine themselves as anything or anyone, and with enough practice, anyone can act beyond their usual identity. Most people enjoy an occasional respite from the trappings of their identity through events like halloween, masquerade parties, games, and to some extent, books and films that transport us into characters we can safely identify with.

One important role of art is to challenge and disrupt habitual identity through the perceptual experience of imagined embodiment, and made possible by mirror neurons. Conscious engagement in this process through art can introduce viewers to new horizons in self-knowledge.

 

PGNB Prismo 2017

 

Interactive Digital Art and Synaesthesia as a Method of Embodiment

The most relevant method of imagined embodiment to Aurora involves the exploration of synaesthesia. Synaesthesia is a unique doorway from the visual to the aural. If we pay attention to sound and its effects on the imagination, it has the potential to create a transformative experience and disrupt habitual sensory perception. Experiencing synaesthesia consciously by meditating on music or sound and absorbing mental imagery restores attentive listening and its meditative benefits. Interactive digital art like Aurora uses technology to leverage synaesthesia and bring audiences back to the present through attentive listening.

Aurora’s lights react to sound the way our mind would visually imagine the source of any sound. The nature of sound and the act of listening have a unique quality that visual perception does not—sound disappears nearly as soon as it is heard; it is more ephemeral and decays quickly through friction unlike most visual objects, which tend to persist until they are destroyed, or decay over longer periods. Because sound does not persist very long, attention to sound created a synchronization to the ineffable flow of time: the steady, consistent arising and dissolving of the soundscape. By perceiving sound as light we tune into the act of listening which is an important way of staying balanced and present in a sensorially fractured world. This allows the mind to be present in time, which is its natural state.

 

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Heads-up vs. Heads-down Technology: Impacts On Brain Development

When it comes to brain development, technology gets a bad rap. Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, compares our new ways of interacting to a backwards evolution:

 

“We are evolving from cultivators of personal knowledge into hunters and gatherers in the electronic data forest. In the process, we seem fated to sacrifice much of what makes our minds so interesting.”

 

Last week’s blog tailed off with a different comparison. We suggested the connection between heads-up technology, which forms genuine social connections, and how those technologies reflect early childhood experiences. This week delves more into the question of how technology impacts brain development, especially when parsed by what we like to call heads-up and heads-down varieties. This is pertinent among children who are now spending their formative years engaged with technology. Technology observably impacts our social habits, but more easily overlooked is how it physically rewires our brain.

 

Nicholas Carr

Photo: Antenna

 

How is technology “rewiring” our brains?

The speed at which technology is changing and entering our world means that research on how it psychologically influences us can’t possibly keep up. But one thing is likely—technology is rewiring our (and especially our children’s) brains in ways that we haven’t yet encountered and don’t fully understand.

A 2007 UCLA study measured brain activity of experienced vs. non-experienced web-users in their prefrontal cortexes, areas associated with problem-solving and decision-making. The study found localized brain activity in experienced users much higher than their counterparts, even though brain activity was comparable across all participants when exposed to non-internet-based reading tasks. After instructing the non-users to engage in internet use for one hour per day for six days, the study was repeated and found comparable brain activity across all users.

 

That isn’t to say that internet exposure, or technology in general, is necessarily rewiring our brains in bad ways, just different ways.

 

Even though this is only a single study in a large body of research on technology and brain activity, it just goes to show the incredible plasticity of our brains and how quickly technology exposure has a physical and yet subconscious influence on our social and sensory experiences. It’s also worth noting whether studies of this type differentiate what we’d consider heads-up or heads-down technology; this particular study on internet use would definitely fall under the latter type.

 

Child Brain Development

Photo: The News International

 

That isn’t to say that internet exposure, or technology in general, is necessarily rewiring our brains in bad ways, just different ways. Using technologies like the internet has a tendency to frequently redirect our attention, forcing our brain to spend energy reorienting itself at the expense of comprehension. These sacrifices are known to researchers as switching costs. Considering the overload of advertising, hyperlinks, and other visual re-directors, it’s no surprise that humans are cognitively paying a higher price for switching costs than ever before.

 

The pros and cons of heads-down technology on brain development

If the influence of technology burdens us with switching costs, what are the benefits of technology, especially of the heads-down variety, in rewiring our brains? Nicholas Carr, a fan of Neolithic metaphors, describes the cognitive skills brought on by internet consumption as “primitive mental functions:”

  • Hand-eye coordination
  • Reflex response
  • Visual-cue processing
  • Fast-paced problem solving
  • Credibility assessment
  • Pattern detection

While these influences have their benefits, they are seemingly more base than socially interactive in their enhancement of human brain function. Evidently, a balance of the two is ideal for healthy brain development, especially in children. Patricia Greenfield, a developmental psychologist at UCLA reviewed over 40 studies in 2009 to assess the effects of technology and media on intelligence and learning. According to Greenfield, the “widespread and sophisticated development of visual-spatial skills” has come at the expense of “deep processing,” “mindful knowledge acquisition, inductive analysis, critical thinking, imagination, and reflection”—skills that, one could argue, are more relevant to forming our social tendencies early on in life.

 

Balancing technology and brain development

We’ve already discussed how heads-up technology is designed to encourage face-to-face interaction in social settings. It engages users with their surrounding environment rather than isolating their attention spans. In terms of technology rewiring our brains, there are parallels between heads-down technology and the visual-spatial skills it enhances, and heads-up technology and the “deep processing” skills Greenfield speaks of.

 

Multisensory tech encourages our brains to fire on all cylinders rather than tune out certain aspects of brain development, and could be good for encouraging critical thinking and focusing attention in young brains that respond well to non-conventional learning styles.

 

In an ideal world, humans would have the self-awareness and control to use both technology types in healthy amounts and encourage the same use among their children. “Heads-up technology” is only a novel idea because it is usually the exception rather than the norm, however. Heads-down tech just seems to be more widely accessible and leaves us more susceptible to unhealthy, addictive tendencies. If we hope to avoid the detrimental effects this has on our (and our kids’) brain development, there needs to be more research on what separates heads-up from heads-down technology and how the use of each is “good” for brain development.

 

Photo: Super Glam Moms

 

Multisensory technology and brain development

One area of research that studies the influence of what we’d consider heads-up technology on brain development focuses on children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and multisensory experiences. One such study, conducted at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University, found that children diagnosed with ASD do not process multisensory information as effectively or quickly as other children in that age group. This kind of research points to why there is a burgeoning industry of multisensory experiences and therapies geared toward families living with autism. The Children’s Museum of Atlanta, for example, hosts a regular multisensory program. One of the Yeshiva study authors went as far as to compare multisensory integration therapies to a “military-industrial complex.”

While there is definitely more room for research on the direct impacts of multisensory and heads-up technology on our brains, perhaps the approach’s popularity has more to do with the impacts of heads-up technology regardless of a diagnosis like ASD. Multisensory tech encourages our brains to fire on all cylinders rather than tune out certain aspects of brain development, and could be good for encouraging critical thinking and focusing attention in young brains that respond well to non-conventional learning styles. Continued research in this area will help us decide how to balance our exposure to various kinds of technology and approach product design, especially for children.

This week’s article evolved into what feels more like a research paper than your average blog, closing with more questions than solutions and answers. We know relatively little about the long-term effects that technology consumption has on the human brain, and we know even less about those effects when you try separating technology into categories like heads-up and heads-down. At the end of the day, a healthy dose of both types is likely ideal for well-rounded brain development, and we’re seeing a growing emphasis on engaging, multisensory technologies to influence that development, especially among children and those with disorders like autism.

One way of delving further into this topic is by looking more specifically into the science behind multisensory experiences. Public spaces are investing more into services and displays that captivate and engage audiences on auditory, visual, tactile, and even olfactory levels. Tune in next week to find out more about what’s behind the growing appeal for multisensory technologies.

 

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Which Technologies Enhance Human Connection?

“What gunpowder did for war the printing press has done for the mind.”

—Wendell Phillips

 

No matter the era, technology has both a positive and negative impact on our lives. It all depends, of course, on how it’s used.

Most of America, apparently, would agree with that statement. When asked what the Digital Revolution’s impact has been on the overall quality of life in a 2015 Heartland Monitor poll, 62% of our participating neighbours believed that it has a mixed positive and negative impact. Less than half felt it was socially isolating and detrimental to forming communities.

It’s hard to measure the true impacts of technology, particularly social platforms, but there is undoubtedly huge potential for technology to benefit our connectivity as social creatures. What types of technology enrich our social connections? Over the next few weeks, Limbic Media will discuss how technology influences us socially.

 

Cellphone Use

 

Heads-Up vs. Heads-Down Technology

Opinions in that Heartland poll were, unsurprisingly, more divided when parsed by demographics such as age, education, employment status and whether or not the participant had children. Even with a subjective question like “does technology help or hinder us,”  people still have very straightforward opinions about how tech negatively affects relationships, whether app addiction affects our social life or the danger of distraction has an impending threat to our survival.

 

Heads-up tech focuses our attention on our surroundings and encourages shared experiences

 

Most conversations about human connection and technology, however, seem to lump “technology” into a single category. Evidently, not all technology affects how we interact with each other in the same way. It really comes down to the specific product, and again, how we decide to use it.

Since we don’t have time to discuss the effect of individual products on human connection, we can simplify things by describing most social technology as “heads-up” or “heads-down” (or a combination of both). Heads-up tech focuses our attention on our surroundings and encourages shared experiences, while heads-down tech tunes out our surroundings. Both types are beneficial in the right doses and settings, but for the purpose of expanding real-life human connection, heads-up is the better approach.

 

Shared Experience Models Are Gaining Traction

More companies are engaging with heads-up technology and shared experience models to satisfy customers’ needs for genuine connections. Thinkers like Brian Solis, author of What’s the Future of Business? are emphasizing the presence of shared experiences in company products, services, and internal relations:

 

“No matter how much or fast technology (social, mobile, real-time) is thrust upon your markets, the one thing that remains constant is that people will use it to connect with one another, learn, and discover, create and curate, and most importantly, share and feel experiences.”

 

Brian Solis

Photo: Leading Authorities

 

Technologies that serve our need for connection in positive and real ways not only benefit the public, then, but also the longevity of companies that understand the importance of social connections in their business models. We can all benefit from products that force heads-up connections by virtue of their design—what are some tangible examples of companies and products that embody this approach to social technology?

 

Aurora and Social Wearables

Limbic Media’s very own Aurora (released last fall) and Social Wearables (yet to be officially released), are both designed as heads-up social platforms. Aurora, the world’s most advanced sound-to-light mapping platform, uses interactive sound, light, and technology in public spaces to encourage social engagement through art. Anyone with the free Aurora app can connect with the product’s lighting design AI and control how light shows interact with its audience in real-time. In future releases, Aurora will be able  to respond to motion and social media hashtags to influence lighting effects (#blue to change light colour, for example). Aurora is a heads-up social technology that can apply to a variety of social settings.

 

Aurora Jam Tent-Discover Tectoria 2018

Photo: CrackerJackFlash

 

Currently in development, Social Wearables acts as a digital icebreaker. It’s designed to enhance networking opportunities and encourage face-to-face connections in social gatherings like conferences. Social Wearables is a light pendant coloured with RGB LED Lights; when wearers touch their pendant with ones of different colours, it vibrates and collects new shades until they Capture the Rainbow, the first in an upcoming catalog of games. The Social Wearables technology gets people’s attention up, brings people to you and provides a social context for approaching someone you’ve never talked to before.

 

Interactive Seesaws

Cities like Montreal and Chicago have seen the appearance of interactive seesaws in their city centres. Impulse acts like an urban instrument; the weight and motion of see-sawers create a totally unique composition of sound and light for each duo. The multisensory creation is emitted from each seesaw with speakers and LEDs, and projected in real-time onto surrounding buildings. The heads-up installation is a collaboration between Toronto-based Lateral Office, Montreal’s CS Design and engineering EGB Group. The seesaws are a good example of taking an age-old social platform—playgrounds—and using technology to reinvent it into a public social experience for all ages.

 

interactive public art

Impulse — Photo courtesy of dezeen.com

 

Heads-up Apps

Aurora and Impulse are good examples of how heads-up social technology is changing our approach to public space, but what about heads-up technology you can fit in your pocket? People’s desire for more genuine connections is making an impact on app design. Apps that encourage social interaction, physical activity and just plain old getting off your phone are becoming more popular.

The rise in anti-app apps reveals people’s awareness of their overuse of heads-down technology. Apps like Offtime, Moment and Flipd provide users with analytics on their technology consumption, especially with social platforms like Facebook, and encourage you to focus on other social activities and tasks.

 

Carrot Reward Program-Phone

Photo: Healthy Families BC

 

There’s also a vast selection of heads-up apps that act as fitness trackers, designed to encourage social connections through physical activity. Hotseat is a good example of a physical activity app that recognizes the importance of short, frequent breaks at the workplace. Its goal is to to get employees away from their screens for short bursts throughout the day and enhance colleague relationships through exercise and competition. Similarly, Carrot connects friends to create collaborative fitness goals. Successful challenges are met with rewards points for experiential programs like SCENE and Aeroplan Miles.

 

Augmented Reality Apps

Pokémon Go’s popularity spurred conversations on how augmented reality games and apps reflect our social tendencies. Even though Pokémon Go encourages players to get outside and interact face-to-face with players, a UBC study found that the least successful players tend to self-identify as introverted and socially awkward. The research points to a niche in gaming or other apps—adapting augmented reality to maximize social opportunities, especially for those that struggle to make genuine connections. The most widely used AR apps certainly help people interact with their environment, but there is huge potential for augmented reality to target users that are seeking social interaction specifically.

Technology has made our world more connected than ever before. Ironically, the ease of that connection has left many feeling no more genuinely connected to others. Perhaps the most satisfying aspect of life is obtaining meaningful human connections. Engaging more with heads-up technology over tech that socially isolates us helps bridge the gap between the quantity and quality of our interactions.

 

Interacting with Pokemon Go

Photo: The Arabian Marketer

 

People resonate with technology that fills the need for real, tangible connections rather than shallow ones. There seems to be an overarching theme with products and businesses that emphasize these shared experience models. From Seesaws to Pokémon Go, we are attracted to heads-up technology that mimics childlike ways of interacting with the world. Children aren’t as capable of tuning out their surroundings; they are field experts at creating connections with the world with zero barriers. Companies that are looking to incorporate more shared experiences into their products and services might need to consider social technologies that can be appreciated by kids and adults alike.

 

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Santa slays: Why holiday shopping mall displays are worth investing in

As cherry trees begin blossoming along Victoria’s boulevards, thoughts of Christmas planning are at least several months down the road for the average person. However, big-time holiday event planners like shopping malls and other public centers are already getting the ball rolling for the 2018 season.

Our previous article discussed how shopping malls are adapting their public spaces to survive coming generations. Malls are finding themselves in a consumer landscape that is spending more on multisensory experiences and online shopping, and they must adapt their public spaces accordingly. Christmas is the most lucrative time of the year to invest in that change, and the easiest way to do it is through interactive holiday displays. This is the second in our series on how shopping malls are changing as public spaces.

 

Santa reading his list

 

Offline Displays Offer Something That E-Commerce Can’t 

With an increased move to e-commerce, fearful malls are making or breaking their success by transforming their public spaces into immersive art displays and edutainment centers that incorporate participatory technology. Since the recession in 2008, consumers have less disposable income but are also more inclined to spend experientially.

 

Recent numbers show that only 11.6% of retail sales occur in an online marketplace.

 

Now that the millennial generation is becoming parents, they are channeling those experiential values through their kids as well. Shopping malls are waking up to the fact that offering interactive components to their space not only attracts customers but keeps them returning. These displays offer something consumers can’t get by shopping online, and they’re willing to take the trip to brick-and-mortar stores to get the experience.

Shopping online is seen as a big threat to offline material consumption. For the time being, however, recent numbers show that only 11.6% of retail sales occur in an online marketplace—and all it takes is a short visit to shopping malls in early December to see that there is still a huge demand for over the holidays. Investing in non-retail, interactive public displays provides a huge opportunity for shopping malls to raise their profile not only during the season but for the rest of the year.

While adapting space to meet these needs is worth the year-round investment, shopping malls create displays during the Christmas season almost by default—so standing out and creating something that other public or offline spaces aren’t is critical to stay afloat. You just can’t get a spot on Santa’s lap over the web.

 

Christmas shopping mall

 

It’s a Win-Win For Consumers and Non-Retail Business

It’s no surprise that shopping malls make a killing over the holidays. However, a deeper look into the holiday display industry reveals a seasonal employment sector that is surprisingly lucrative. When you picture the 5000 mall Santas that are estimated to be employed across the United States every holiday season, it’s the stuff of an obscure holiday-themed VICE documentary on American subcultures. Mall Santas rake in anything from $10,000-$60,000 USD over the five to six-week holiday season, some even earning $500 USD per hour.  

And it’s not just Santas that benefit from seasonal employment. There are at least two professional Santa Claus schools in the United States—one in Denver, Colorado, and the “Harvard” of Santa Schools, employing faculties that have been pumping out an annual class of bearded graduates as early as 1937. Behind every holiday mall display is also a team of event planners, photographers, lighting installers, set designers, and assistants to attend the millions of Santa-display customers every year.

 

One mall can earn up to $1-million per season directly from a single Santa display. That doesn’t include the retail revenue from visitors who shopped while they came in to see the display.

 

Santa mall displays are becoming more sophisticated and interactive than ever before. The aforementioned Santa schools include workshops on the latest gadgets to get Santas familiarized with the kind of edutainment kids are after, and to offer an extra level of interactivity on site. Phone alerts allow customers to avoid lineups or queue specifically for a black, white, Asian, or ASL-speaking Santa. Some bigger malls even have themed interactive Frozen or Shrek displays to occupy customers while they wait. Holiday displays are more engaging for visitors and as a result, increasingly profitable for their organizers.

 

Counting money

 

The ROI is Huge

The ROI of having an engaging holiday-themed display at a shopping mall is staggering. One mall can earn up to $1-million per season directly from a single Santa display. That doesn’t include the retail revenue from visitors who shopped while they came in to see the display. The trade group International Council of Shopping Centers found that 70% of shoppers made purchases while they were at the mall specifically to see Santa. If an interactive display has the potential to draw that kind of return for six weeks of the year, it makes sense that shopping malls are investing more in non-seasonal immersive art and participatory displays.

Monetary returns on investing in displays are convincing, but there’s also huge value in intangible returns that is overlooked, especially when aesthetics are often perceived as secondary to profits.

A mixed-use building in LA’s Koreatown neighbourhood, housing residential and retail space over a busy subway, invested $75,000—or 0.06% of the development’s total cost—into a large-scale mural on the building’s facade. The public art ended up getting featured on the cover of LA Times’ news and culture section, not only marketing the display but also giving the developer invaluable international recognition as a cultural influencer. The display ended up in dozens of publications, became a popular location for photo and video shoot and news backdrops, and served as a marketing image for the transit authority.

Similarly, the California Department of Transportation developed an HQ in a nearby neighbourhood. The development required 1% of its total cost to be dedicated to public art, as mandated by the State of California. The result was an installation of architectural neon and argon light tubes that emulate car tail lights in motion. The public art was a big hit. The Department receives a regular income from photographers and filmmakers who use the space as a site (there are definite Bladerunner vibes), and the architectural light installation has gained a global reputation in the public art world.

 

…not investing in the impact of public space is sacrificing the very element of shopping malls that is key to their survival.

 

While these examples aren’t holiday-themed (displays can usually be adapted quite easily, however), they confirm that the ROI for non-retail investments in public space is well worth it, both fiscally and intangibly—and these public art examples aren’t even interactive! When displays, holiday-themed or otherwise, are raised to a participatory level that the public can actually engage with, that value is elevated even more. Not only does it benefit those commissioning and creating the art, but it also fosters a sense of community and placemaking for those in direct contact with it.

 

Present addressed from Santa

 

The Takeaways

In an uncertain offline retail market, some shopping malls might balk at the idea of investing a substantial sum of money into holiday displays. However, in line with Henry Ford’s saying that a man who stops advertising to save money is like a man who stops a clock to save time, not investing in the impact of public space is sacrificing the very element of shopping malls that is key to their survival.

Holiday displays like Santas that offer a mixture of public art, interactivity, and technology helps malls stand out from other public spaces, profit the most from retail and employ more people seasonally. Because holiday displays also have the potential to raise a shopping mall’s profile, investments into public art, particularly interactive public art, are well worth the return if they can also adapt to non-seasonal audiences that value multisensory experiences outside the home.

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Interactive Technology and the Future of Shopping Malls as Public Spaces

Just blocks from Limbic Media in Victoria, BC stands a $72 million construction site that will become a shiny new Mayfair Shopping Centre next fall. It might be hard to find the reasoning behind such an investment when the smell of death seems to be in the air with shopping malls. Are shopping malls just another blip on the capitalist timeline, like newspapers or drive-ins? Or are they a cultural necessity that needs to adapt to a changing consumer landscape? An in-depth look at successful shopping malls in today’s market points to the latter—and they’re adapting to technology, interactivity, and placemaking. This is the first in a series of Limbic Media articles on how shopping malls are changing as public spaces.

 

 

Where Does Shopping Mall Culture Come From?

The role of shopping malls has shifted from generation to generation. Unless you’re riding a roller coaster at the West Edmonton Mall, we now usually think of shopping malls strictly as consumption centres; places we can’t afford to be lured into for the sake of browsing or hanging out unless we’re in-and-out for something specific. In 2012, venture capitalist Chris Dixon wrote that the future of “offline commerce will serve only two purposes: immediacy (stuff you need right away), and experiences (showroom, fun venues). All other commerce will happen online.” With this changing tide, it’s easy to forget the history behind shopping malls as social placemakers.

The earliest shopping malls in North America opened in the 1920s to mirror the automobile industry’s rise. Malls provided easy car-accessible centres for family outings. As suburban invasions of the 1950s moved people away from social hubs in city centres, architects like Victor Gruen, famous for pioneering shopping mall design, saw this cultural shift as an opportunity. Malls could drive consumer traffic by getting people out of their cars and into commercial spaces conducive to public social interaction in a landscape where there was none. If people had an interactive and engaging place to shop in, they would keep coming back.

By the early 1980s, large centres like the West Edmonton Mall usually contained social, non-retail areas like open-air restaurants, skating rinks and even themed amusement parks. Around this time, shopping malls were eating up 50% of retail profits across the United States.

 

Why Are Shopping Malls “Dying?”

Flash forward to the post-recession years. Retail outlets like Sears, Macy’s, and Target, the anchor stores of shopping malls, have been filing bankruptcy and closing their doors en masse. When it comes to the demise of shopping malls, in concurrence with Dixon’s prediction, online retail is blamed as the culprit.

 

Shopping mall “deaths” are due more directly to the misuse and cost of space rather than a massive move of pedestrian traffic to an online marketplace.

 

People are spending more of their dollars online for its convenience and the credibility that online reviews provide. Between 2010 and 2016, Amazon’s sales grew from $16 billion to $80 billion, almost four times what Sears made in 2016. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, e-commerce accounted for 11.6% of total retail sales that same year, which seems fairly in-line with the number of mall closures—predicted at 15% over the next decade in the United States.

Accusing e-commerce exclusively for killing malls is probably an oversimplification. Mall visits declined about 50% in a few years after 2008. With the economic crash, people generally had less disposable income—but their attitudes about consumption, especially among millennials, also changed. People increasingly value multisensory experiences over, or alongside, the attainment of goods.

There’s also the issue of real estate. When anchor stores like Sears and Target close, they leave hundreds of thousands of empty square footage for over-built malls to fill. Finding tenants who are willing to sign expensive leases in a less-than-promising retail market is hard, and malls have to shutter. It might be more accurate to say that shopping mall “deaths” are due more directly to the misuse and cost of space rather than a massive move of pedestrian traffic to an online marketplace, at least for the time being.

The increasing death of shopping malls seems concomitant with the death of a certain sense of community that malls originally set out to encourage in the 1950s. Inner cities are becoming more unaffordable and more communities are dispersed in urban sprawls. People have less time to join or establish community groups because they are working ever harder to support themselves and their families, and they now have online social platforms to engage in at their convenience. The increase of virtual connection seems to have left us feeling no less socially isolated—some would argue even more isolated—than before the rise of social platforms via the internet.

 

 

What Are Malls Doing to Reverse the Trend?

The new demand for experiential consumption combined with real estate barriers means that shopping malls need to reinvent their spaces if they hope to survive the coming generations. Malls with the same stores and brands on repeat are boring to customers. Centers need to create unique experiences and spaces to attract visitors and keep them returning.

 

53.8% Of all indoor entertainment centers in the world, mainly by the companies Legoland Discovery Centers and KidZania, opened between 2010-2015.

 

One solution is to embrace digital technologies that are seen as a threat to offline shopping and use them to transform shopping malls into multisensory experiences. Malls are reimagining their public spaces into entertainment centres where audiences can participate. By offering this kind of social currency to consumers who value multisensory experiences over physical products, shopping malls increase return foot traffic. Another approach is to add learning components to multisensory displays. Visitors are given opportunities to learn about products while they’re engaging with them, which is especially effective with younger audiences.

In the last decade, shopping malls have seen a rising demand for “edutainment.” Edutainment centers combine themed entertainment with experiential learning and high-tech games. 53.8% Of all indoor entertainment centers in the world, mainly by the companies Legoland Discovery Centers and KidZania, opened between 2010-2015. This growth reflects the positive effect that combining immersive edutainment and technology with retail have on returning visitors and overall demand for multi-use shopping malls. Because of increased vacancies from anchor store failure, edutainers also don’t have to worry about purchasing land or creating infrastructure for their business—it’s a win-win situation.

But shopping malls don’t have to go so far as full-fledged edutainment centers to increase foot traffic. Spaces filled not only with art but immersive art and displays, are the most likely to attract and keep visitors around. Brands and commercial spaces are catching onto the idea of placemaking by using interactive and immersive art to engage and educate audiences about their products. To create a narrative for the new Ford Fiesta, Ford created a pitch-black maze to create a tactile experience and a 360º mapping projection to virtually immerse viewers in the new model.

 

The future of shopping malls relies on a combination of both emerging and traditional values.

 

North American retail outlets are catching up to new immersive technologies to offer shoppers mall experiences that they can’t achieve at home or through e-commerce. Interactive mirrors, navigation touch-screens platforms, robots, augmented reality displays and smartphone apps are being adopted by shopping malls to create an emotive, participatory experience for consumers. Interactive technologies like apps also help malls keep track of foot traffic and find out what’s working.

 

What is the Future of Shopping Malls as Public Spaces?

Ironically, the future of shopping malls relies on a combination of both emerging and traditional values: creating interactive, engaging experiences through technology, and using them to foster a sense of connection and community that malls seem to have lost since their inception.

If malls hope to survive, they need to invest in non-retail spaces that involve people and focus on community-centric marketing and placemaking. Without necessarily investing in massive edutainment ventures or technologies, the return of investing in public art and displays is huge, even if its main purpose is merely to raise the space’s profile and attract foot traffic. Much to the reprieve of shopping malls, the demand for non-retail experiences is still very much alive and well, even if brick-and-mortar retail is on the decline as an exclusive use of space. 

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