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Interfaces and telematics

The artist Joseph Delappe has created a humorous series, which spoofs the contemporary mouse interface. Delappe’s mice are not so concerned with mapping our movement actions into the virtual spaces of the computer however their formal qualities may instead map our desires and foibles. Douglas Englebart’s original research at Stanford Research Institute for the creation of the mouse would find Delappe’s mouse updates quite humorous.


Heart Mouse by Joseph Delappe. 1997. 4.5" x 4.5"


Daisy Mouse by Joseph Delappe, 2001. 10.5" x 10.5"


What is also exciting about haptics and human machine interaction and interface design is that it permits you to touch and feel something at a distance with the art/science of telematics.

This science/art allows surgeons to do robot-assisted microsurgeries from across the planet. Here, the movements of the surgeon’s hands precisely control the robot actuators with special function fingers. Virtual scaling allows the surgeon to move her hand a large distance and have the robotic actuator move proportionally very little. This allows surgeons to cut and suture with accuracies generally associated only with robotic actuators. With local manipulation of haptic devices, the robots at the other end do not care if we are directing the robots from across the room or telematically controlling the robotic surgery devices from across the planet via satellite or a dedicated Internet connection.

This has allowed medical specialists to reach out into cyberspace and have an agency at a distance with the accuracies of a local surgeon and operation.


Telematics is the science and study of exploring the actual and philosophical issues of sensing and acting at a distance using computers, networks, and feedback sensors.


The artists/scientists Ken Goldberg, Eric Paulos, Chris Myers, and Mat Fogarty are studying network-based systems that permit online users to experience live and remote environments such as rainforests, political rallies, and a biotechnology lab from a distance. They have created a work called the Tele-Actor, 2004 which is a human with cameras and microphones who is connected to a wireless digital network. Viewers who log onto the web site can view video and audio television of this remote actor, and he/she receives a stream of votes on how and where to go in the environment. They have developed a "Spatial Dynamic Voting" (SDV) interface, which allows the group dynamics of all the participants on the web to vote on the future direction of the teleactor. This work questions the idea of individual agency and subsumes the actor to the will of the collective interacting on the site at any one time.


Tela-Actor: by Ken Goldberg, Eric Paulos, Chris Myers, and Mat Fogarty. 2004.Tele-Actor Photo by Bart Nagel

Artists Eduardo Kac and Ed Bennet have explored telerobotics and telepresence in their work Ornitorrinco (1989-1996) by allowing users to use telephone tones and a remote camera to control a robot from a distance. In another work titled, Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1994), Eduardo Kac and Ikuo Nakamura created a live bi-directional interaction between a philodendron plant and a canary via telephone lines at a distance of 600 miles.

This can be termed an interspecies communication artwork. In this work, the canary song was captured by microphones in the cage and sent over the telephone lines to the plant, which was able to receive the sound. An electrode was wired to the plant to sense its response to the canary’s song, and the micro voltage fluctuations of the plant then determined which pre-recorded bird songs would be sent back to the bird, thereby setting up the two-way conversation between different species.