Lifeblood And Beta Tank Bubble-Based 'Stereo Tanks'

Lifeblood is an unusual bubble-tank imaging system created by artist Stephanie Andrews. Lifeblood was exhibited at the G2 gallery in Chicago. Beta Tank is a more recent project that emphasizes more precise bubble "texting."

(Lifeblood bubble tank sculpture)

Lifeblood consists of a large tank of water; bubbles are released from 64 valves at the bottom of the tank. The valves are controlled by computer program/MIDI control board.

The software orchestrates the release of the bubbles, using them as "pixels." Directional lighting causes the bubble "pixels" to shine. The bubbles form recognizable forms as they float upward; when the bubbles pop at the surface of the tank, the image decays. Microphones record the chaotic image decay and relay it to surround speakers in the exhibit walls.

This creation is an alternative three-dimensional imaging system that plays with the inherently beautiful qualities of air and water. The animated visual and auditory rhythms of Lifeblood are a meditation on the essential importance of these elements. This piece emphasizes the highlights that occur on the delicate surfaces of the bubbles. drawing attention to the rich borderlands where the two elements are brought in contact with each other.

Beta Tank is a similar project created by Daniel Kupfer and Eyal Burstein. I like the Lifeblood project better because it is a 3D display, but Beta Tank has some excellent engineering behind it. The biggest challenge for the designers was to overcome the problem of "drafting" (the first bubble experiences more friction and eventually the next bubble in the series catches up with the first and the image is ruined). To fix the problem, Beta-tank uses a highly viscous liquid similar to shampoo in order to obtain a workable refresh rate.

(Beta Tank texting [video in HTML frame])

The reason I put the phrase "stereo tank" in the title to this article is to honor Robert Heinlein's stereo tank from his 1961 novel Stranger in a Strange Land:

"If we don't show the Man from Mars in the stereo tanks pretty shortly, you'll have riots on your hands, Mr. Secretary."
(Read more about Heinlein's stereo tank)

He also refers to it as a stereovision in what is probably the earliest description of a "screensaver" that you are likely to find.

Stephanie Andrews is a University of Washington graduate; her current research involves creating sculptural work from motion-capture data, alternative platforms for multi-dimensional kinetic animation, and nanograffiti. Read more about her at stephnet and more about lifeblood. See also the cool beta tank video. Thanks to Reg.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 11/23/2006)

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