The Mirror between Two Worlds: 3D Surface Computing for Objects and Environments

The Mirror between Two Worlds: 3D Surface Computing for Objects and Environments

Eugene Ch’ng (University of Birmingham, UK)
Copyright: © 2013 |Pages: 20
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2961-5.ch013


The information society manufactures, manipulates, and commodifies information. Heritage is one such area that is undergoing digital transformation. Heritage is increasingly being transmuted through digitisation devices such as laser and structured light scans into multiple representations of information. The rich information of a heritage object or an environment can be restructured, transmitted, and recomposed into a mediated form both textual and non-textual. Once digitised, it becomes free from its physical predecessor; it enters another world that defies the physical laws of nature where the imagination of the maker is a limit. Such worlds accompanied by their objects are accessible in new yet intuitive ways via surface computers. The horizontal nature of the multitouch-multiuser surface computer then becomes the mirror that links both worlds, allowing access into a virtual space via the touch-table computing paradigm. This chapter explores 3D surface computing, its technology, capabilities, and limits with developments of two multitouch applications incorporating heritage objects and environments, and the observation of the reactions of initial users. It addresses new issues and challenges surrounding the use of surface computing and how the access and transmission of heritage information via multitouch-multiuser tables are able to contribute to the accessibility, teaching, and learning of heritage.
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The issues related to the value of the digital is increasingly provoking questions that need to be answered. This is becoming more urgent as we transition into an increasingly mediated world where the boundary of the real and that of the simulated is diminishing. One of the characteristics of post-industrial, information society is the manufacture, manipulation, and commodification of information via digital infrastructure. Information can be represented in many forms. Particularly in the sphere of heritage, itself already a valuable asset as we shall soon see, its digitisation seems to greatly elevate its position in accessibility. However, before proceeding any further, we must first define and contextualise heritage within this chapter.

Heritage is conceived as something that is worth safeguarding, protecting or conserving (Jokilehto, 2005). Specifically, cultural heritage in which culture can be defined as “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society” (Tylor, 1871), and natural heritage which, in the context of this chapter, is the legacy of fossilised organisms rather than present natural objects and environments. Information associated with heritage objects and environments once digitised can be disseminated widely and quickly via the viral nature of social media. Furthermore, the object itself at its present state in time with its surface details and colour information can be digitised into 3D via laser or structured light scanning, both of which project light on the entire surface of an object in order to capture data stored as 3D points, surfaces, and colours in virtual space. When an object is digitised, it remains perpetually in this state, frozen in time, free from the invisible but destructive hands of the second-law of thermodynamics. Whilst the original fall victim to entropy, the simulacrum enjoy the effects of the elixir of life. There in eternity, it wears many forms, at times compressed, at other times reproduced and decimated, accompanied by and embodying historical and factual information. Guided by binary logic, it disintegrates and recomposes, it materialises on organic light-emitting diodes—the spectators are awed by it.

Whilst the simulacrum is being widely exhibited, the original sits in the archives deserted, and perhaps forgotten. The original’s fuller version, the simulacrum seems now to have more worth than the physical. It can be represented in many forms, disintegrated and electronically teleported to another location and re-materialised and produced in a 3D printer with the same form, structure, volume, and perhaps even material. Which philosophical path will this new form of image making take, where the ‘new’ refers to the transformative nature of the digital in all its interactive and representational possibilities? Since advances in real-time 3D computer graphics and Natural User Interfaces (NUI) may soon make the object indistinguishable from the physical? It could probably supercede the original with the accuracy and power of its imitation so much so that we cannot discern the differences in our visual or tactile experiences. Will it take on a negativity in the public’s eye, that “the simulacrum is more than just a useless image, it is a deviation and a perversion of imitation itself—a false likeness” (Plato, 360BCE) where the viewer’s subjectivity takes priority over that which is viewed and manipulated? Or in Baudrillard’s argument (Baudrillard, 1981, 1983), that reality is usurped and superceded by the simulacrum? Or will such simulation establish a positive outcome as in Deleuze’s argument (Deleuze, 1983)—that:

The simulacrum is not a degraded copy. It harbors a positive power which denies the original and the copy, the model and the reproduction. At least two divergent series are internalized in the simulacrum—neither can be assigned as the original, neither as the copy. It is not even enough to invoke a model of the Other, for no model can resist the vertigo of the simulacrum. There is no longer any privileged point of view except that of the object common to all points of view. There is no possible hierarchy, no second, no third…

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