Environment XML

A new digital art project is based on an interesting platform for re-purposable data.

“Mixed Realities”, an art project just commissioned by Turbulence, “takes as its starting point that the distinction between virtual and real is as quaint as the nineteenth century distinction between mind and body.”

The project will link sensors in a virtual reality (I think they mean Second Life) with sensors in a real environment. Hmm. Doesnt fire me with enthusiasm, but then Im fairly neanderthal about Second Life.

But what is interesting is the Environment XML platform built by Usman Haque which this work will use.

Environment XML is broadly a platform for posting (or reading) data from sensors. “EnvironmentXML proposes a kind of “RSS feed” for tagged environmental data, enabling anyone to release realtime environmental data from a physical object or space in XML format via the internet in such a way that this content becomes part of the input data to spaces/interfaces/objects designed by other people…It is inspired in part by Aethers “Budapest Heat” project, which streams realtime temperature of Budapest to a remote sculpture covered with temperature-sensitive paint. A protocol like Environment XML would enable designers to release such networked data (e.g. Budapests temperature) for others to apply to a completely different project…Just as Flickr does with photos, Environment XML would enable this data to be shared, tagged and aggregated with similarly tagged temperature data from a number of other projects streaming from around the world and would itself form part of a wider global temperature-related data stream that could become inputs to others projects. ”

Its a fascinating idea. At the moment
1. the data available on the live site is sparse, eg the temperature, light level and number of people in a South London Room 12 hours ago. But we all have to start somewhere. Im sure there was once only a handful of items on EBay. The site welcomes additional datastreams
2. the ideas for what datastreams to submit. Looking at their tag cloud display, temperature is by far the most obvious one! However, the list of suggestions includes: “local temperature; local light level; the height of a pile of dirty dishes; whether windows were open or closed; whether bookshelves were empty; the length of the shadow of the neighbouring building; the number of people currently interacting with the device; or even peoples positions in space.”

You can see the possibilities, especially if this bcomes in any way systematic. This is all about re-purposing data, which is the basis of so many Web 2 mashups. Take three datastreams, eg from Google Earth, the BBC, a news site, etc, etc, and recombine them to show the weather and an aerial photgraph at the scene of the latest murder. Thats a silly example but the possibilities are endless
– academic research
– business analysis
– art works

This site just adds to the possibilities. It needs far more data from far more places, of course. Light or temperature levels in one room in S London isnt very interesting; a hundred datasets might be of use to weather forecasters, gas companies, or home insulation salespersons!

There are many interesting data streams out there which are already being captured, or could easily be:
– the number of people inside buildings with ticketing systems or automatic entry barriers (eg art galleries)
– RFID data – eg the number of times people try to take library books past sensors
– sound volumes (eg how loud is it in a given street?)
– number of bluetooth devices in a busy place

Incidentally the art world seems to be really catching on to Second Life. The Australian Council for the Arts is offering “up to $20,000 for a collaborative artist residency in the virtual world of Second Life.”

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