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Archive for March, 2011

A boy’s own guide to building a giant creepy eyeball that follows you round the room

Friday, March 18th, 2011

You will need:

  • 1 x PC (which I assume you already have)
  • 1 x Microsoft Kinect (about £120)
  • 1 x Puffersphere (worth quite a lot, but you can hire them from Pufferfish)

Total cost: more than a few week’s pocket money…

There was a lot of excitement in the Technology Studio this week when a nice man with a van dropped off three large flight cases containing something rather special: a spherical display system called a Puffersphere. Pufferfish, the company which invented them, has been kind enough to lend us one for a week.

Things got even better when the man from Pufferfish turned up the following day, helped us put it together and took me through a slightly mind bending set of information about how to use the thing. He brought us some donuts though, so that made it a lot easier to deal with.

Although the brief I was given was to come up with something we could use as part of our upcoming appearance at the 2011 Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry Annual Conference, the inner geek took over and we quickly decided the first project would be a massive eyeball.

To get an image onto the Puffersphere you start off with a panoramic image and use a polar distortion to get it into a form that the projector’s super-special Super Umami lens can then display onto the inside of the sphere. Before and after look like this:

world-original            world-polar

I’ll post some more technical detail on this later – but the short version is that the top of the origin rectangle ends up as the centre point of the circle, and the bottom of the rectangle ends up as the outside of the circle.

Once you have the image it’s a simple matter to get it into a full screen WPF app, which can then be displayed on the sphere. The centre of the image ends up as the top of the sphere, and the edges converge on the bottom. This means that to get the image on the sphere rotating in the horizontal plane is as easy as applying a WPF rotate transform to the image.

For the next step, the Kinect. The process for getting this up and running on the PC, using OpenNI is well documented elsewhere, so I won’t repeat it. The OpenNI framework includes a user generator that uses the feed from the Kinect’s depth camera to detect individuals within the scene. Once that’s all in place, you can effectively convert the real-world co-ordinates of the user (given in cartesian co-ordinates) into polar coordinates, and use the angle to rotate the eye correctly.

As has been pointed out – not the most ground breaking use of a Kinect ever, but it does show how putting two pieces of technology can be combined to create something new, interesting and – although not immediately apparent – with genuine commercial applications.

For the interested, I’m keeping the code I write for this in the Earthware Github account. You can run this without having a Puffersphere, but you will need a Kinect. I’ll be putting up some more posts in the next few weeks about this and other cool and useful things we do with the sphere and Kinect.

We also took some video of the eye in action:

After we posted the video, we were very happy to see that it was picked up by Engadget. Many of the comments echoed something the more geeky among us had been thinking from the start: “we want the eye of Sauron”. And we’re nothing if not responsive to our customer’s requirements:

@jon_george1

GoLearnTo website design gets an update

Monday, March 7th, 2011

The award winning GoLearnTo website has had a design update recently and we think it looks great – even if we do say so ourselves!Screenshot_GoLearnToNew

After some market research GoLearnTo decided that their website needed to be more focused on their target demographic. In addition they wanted to widen the site from 800 pixels wide to 1024 pixels wide, considering that now less than 1% of people use 800×600 displays. Yes, that’s less than 1%!

See more information about browser display statistics.

There are now a  lot more jQuery effects, such as slider panels and more aesthetic and functional photo galleries. These kind of things are great as they give more information to the user as well as being relevant for search engines. They can also add a bit of flashiness to a site which a lot of people generally like!

Check it out and see what you think!

New Bizspace site proves that getting SEO, usability and a professional design working together is what counts

Monday, March 7th, 2011

We were recently approached by Bizspace to completely redesign (in their words!) their old, tired and basic website!

Their previous site was falling well below par on all three of the most important things that a website needs to get right…

SEO (Search engine optimisation)

Unfortunately the site was built with minimal search engine optimisation consideration in mind. There were very few pages with a serious lack of detailed, relevanScreenshot_Bizspace_At content, as well as some other more serious issues such as using images for text headers. Without spending the required time and effort on SEO you are negating much else of what you do on a website – because nobody will ever find it!

Website Usabillity

Clarity is the name of the game here – not making people have to think! Unfortunately the navigation through the site was not clear and neither were the most important calls to action on each page. Always remember to keep things simple and clear and ensure the things you want people to do on each page are easy to see and understand.

Website design

Aesthetically the design was below average. I say it all the time but people will make up their mind within seconds of visiting your site on who you are, what you stand for and whether they trust you. A clear professional design is extremely important to instantly reassure their subconscious that you are worthy of their trust.

But, it’s all of them working together that’s the key!

Getting one or even a couple of these things right is a good start, but it’s the combination of all three together that we here at The Technology Studio believe is the real goal. It’s not good enough to have a fantastic looking site if nobody knows how to use it. There’s no point having  a site with search engine optimisation tuned perfectly if it looks unprofessional and shabby as people will go elsewhere. You see where I’m going here!

With our help the new Bizspace website has released to much praise in each of the areas above. The proof as always is in the pudding however! Their previous site achieved half of the visitors that the new site achieves, but it’s the site goals that are really interesting. Previously the old Bizspace site achieved an average of just 4 contact forms per week. It is now achieving an average of 40. That’s a ten fold increase!