Puddle of Life – Darwin Exhibit from Tiago Serra on Vimeo.

Here’s a really elegantly-designed multi-touch table. It uses two really key pieces of open source technology: the Community Core Vision (“CCV”) tracker, formerly known as tbeta, and a lovely framework for coding visuals called PyMT.

PyMT, as the name implies, is a Python-based framework. I’ve gotten to know Nathanaël Lécaudé, a talented artist and coder who was nice enough to put me up a couple of nights while I was in Montreal; he’s one of several core coders. They’re doing a lot to really encapsulate functionality in widgets in a nice way. Features of PyMT include an event framework, specialized widgets for gesture, touch, and layout, and connections to OpenGL, OpenGL shaders, and sound. You can even work with the enduring, evergreen synthesis language Csound using its Python bridge, the oddly-named but powerful Ounk.

Of course, that’s all plumbing. It’s nice to see this applied to something powerful and educational. From the Vimeo description:

"Puddle of Life" is an educational multi-touch installation that was designed for Coimbra’s Science Museum (Darwin exhibit), demonstrating the theory of natural selection, as part of Darwin’s 200th anniversary.

The installation is composed of a round multi-touch table whose surface represents a virtual environment where 4 species of creatures live in. Each of these little creatures have different physical characteristics visually expressed by it’s quantity and/or size: Vision, Locomotion and Fur.

The player interacts with the game by touching the surface. He has to maintain full awareness of his creatures emotions (visually represented by a cartoon like ballon) and using this information to properly choose the mating partners on the control console. This console also allows the user to select the most appropriate descendent from 4 possible mutations, resulting from the reproduction.

The player’s objective is to help the species he controls achieve the highest number of creatures of its kind. Since this world suffers from climate change the player must assure that his creatures are well adapted to this ever-changing environment by choosing the best balance between mating partners and descendants.

The species move in a swarm, but they split when the predator is near. When a creature sees food it warns the nearby siblings and they all run towards it. Of course only the ones who have best locomotion reach it. The vision gives them the ability to see the predator sooner and the ability to see the food further ahead too. The fur is useful to them when the temperature is low but harmful when it’s hot, leading the creature to a shorter lifespan.

The player wins when they reach about 18 living creatures and loses when all of it’s creatures die from cold/hot, predation, famine or old age.

Photos: flickr.com/photos/tserra/sets/72157619458503007/with/3619335559/

Technical Specs:
LLP multi-touch table
CCV tracker – nuicode.com/projects/tbeta
pyMT framework – code.google.com/p/pymt/
Cython – cython.org/
Rabbyt sprite library for pyglet – matthewmarshall.org/projects/rabbyt/
Animation and artwork: Adobe’s AE, Ai and PS with Fasticon.com icons

The project is the work of Tiago Serra and his collaborators, who have also been PyMT contributors (see comments). Great work, gang. We’ll be watching for more.

  • http://studioimaginaire.com/blog Nat

    Thanks for the nice article ! I just want to add that the table in the video is the awesome work of Tiago Serra and his collaborators, they have been doing incredible work with PyMT, thanks Tiago !

  • http://studioimaginaire.com/blog Nat

    Also, regarding Ounk, it's indeed a weird name, but Ounk was Olivier Bélanger's (Ounk author) now deceased Guinea Pig which he liked a lot so no funny jokes and Ounk, RIP.
    ;)

  • http://UIandUs.com Keith Lang

    That's really damn cool. I love the round form factor too — seems more approachable and is really unusual for screens.

  • http://www.sparkav.co.uk toby*spark

    i'm not sure the best way to demonstrate evolution by natural selection is to involve the player as a god-like deity.

  • Eric

    Now breaks my wooden shoe! (as we say in Dutch when we're flabbergasted). I am working on exactly the same kind of project! A project about artificial evolution and artificial life involving a multi-touch interface for people to interact with the environment. It'll be finished by the end of the week.

  • evan

    Who built this table and where?

  • http://createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @evan — it's in the story. Tiago Serra + collaborators, Coimbra, Portugal Science Museum.

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