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Two Loerie Awards awarded to Formula D interactive and partners for work on museum in Saudi Arabia.

Two of this year’s Loerie Awards were awarded to Formula D interactive and partners for their work on the recently opened Museum of Science and Technology of Islam in Saudi Arabia. Loerie gold was given in the Digital Craft category for the overall design excellence achieved. The outstanding timeline multitouch table was awarded silver.

Commissioned by MTE Studios, an exhibition maker based in Cape Town and Dubai, Formula D interactive and partners developed 21 digital interactive media installations for a newly built science and technology museum in Saudi Arabia. The interactive AV productions display various aspects of the technical and scientific advances of the Muslim world from 700BC to 1700BC in the fields of maths, medicine, botany, chemistry, astronomy, art and architecture besides others. The interactive AV’s produced in the course of the project include touch tables, touch screens and other cutting edge interactive installations.

During the 6 month design and production time, the design companies worked closely with MTE studios who were responsible for the supply and research of content material, to conceptualise each application and together making sure the overall design of each exhibit was appropriate for the target market and subject matter as well as taking into account cultural differences when displaying certain imagery such as the human body.

Multi-touch tables:

Timeline Multi-Touch Table

The flagship exhibit of the museum is a 5 metre long rear projected multi-touch table allowing multiple users to interact simultaneously with a timeline of Islamic contributions to science and technology. Spanning a period of 1000 years, the timeline multi-touch table includes more than 300 historic events relating to important discoveries and achievements of the time. When first approaching the installation, visitors of the museum get an immediate overview of key events, which are represented as markers and title text on the sequential timeline. In order to contain the massive amount of content information in a seamless presentation across the table, the interface lets users open and close 20 year time windows by selecting the periods from either the Arabic or Gregorian calendar displayed on both sides of the table.

By touching the table’s glass surface at the point of interest, one of the 20-year time windows opens. Next, visitors swipe their hand or finger up and down to revolve event icons around the central timeline bringing desired content to the fore. When a particular event has been selected, a window opens up showing images, animation and text related to the event. Language can be easily toggled between English and Arabic by swiping hand or finger across the content left to right or vice versa.

Events of major importance trigger “uber-animations” that span the entire table. This may mark the extra-ordinary travels of Ibn Battuta from Tangiers to China, or coins raining onto the table representing the first use of gold coins in the Arabic world.

To create a multi-touch table of this scale, the glass surface had to be divided into 3 sections, each producing an image of 167 x 125 cm with an overall resolution of 3072 x 768px. The graphical interface design creates the impression of a seamless surface across the 3 sections. Visitors explore the content of the timeline by walking around the table anti clock-wise. The GUI was developed in adobe flash using a live socket connection to synchronize the 3 platforms.

To achieve multi-user functionality, the development team made use of innovative camera tracking technology which identifies fingers and hands of visitors touching the surface. The interface works with intuitive gestures, such as dragging and swiping. The hardware was developed and built by the companies in Cape Town: all in all, the timeline touch table uses three quad core PC’s, six tracking cameras, and six data projectors mounted under the table surface.

Geometric Art Multi-Touch Table

The Geometric art multi-touch table invites users to design their own Arabesque patterns using predefined elements. The application offers the option to re-create patterns which are displayed in the background of the table. Alternatively, users can create their own pattern using a repository of pre-defined elements. The table measures 1 metre square and uses 2 data projectors.

Tangible media interfaces:

Mathematics Card Table

Another 1 metre square projection table uses sophisticated pattern recognition technology allowing users to navigate content information by placing physical cards onto the table’s glass surface. The circular cards are held in 4 containers, one in each corner of the table. Each card represents a specific topic in the field of mathematics. Once a card has been placed on the table, a circular menu is projected around the card. Next, visitors turn the cards to select the desired sub category which is presented with text and images. There is an even amount of cards in Arabic and English.

Interactive Muslim World map

The interactive Islamic World Map shows the extent of the Muslim world during its heyday (ca 1200 CE). Visitors page through the wooden pages of a large book taking them through the expansion periods of the Muslim world. Simultaneously, animated maps illustrating the events are being displayed on a 56 inch plasma screen above the book. The interface was realised using magnetic sensors in the book connected to a serial connection on the PC.

Why did Islamic Science flourish sliding screen

This “why did Islamic Science Flourish” display engages a pulley system allowing the user to drag a large plasma screen from left to right. When changing the position of the screen, the user scrolls through content chapters, which present 12 reasons why science flourished in the Muslim world between the 9th and the 12th century.

Muslim Town Development projection

This top down projection onto a 2 metre x 1 metre vacuum formed topographical relief surface shows an animation explaining how early Islamic settlements were formed and grew into large cities.

Classic Touch screen applications

Apart from the described interactive media installation, the scope of work included the coverage of a wide range of topics dealing with Muslim Science and Technology development through classic touch screen applications.

–          The Islamic Inventions touch screen gives access to a large repository of Inventions and discoveries by Islamic Scholars of different eras.

–          The Golden ratio touch screen explores the role of Fibonacci who was the first to introduce Arabic numerals to the West. It also highlights the connection between the Fibonacci numbers and the Golden Ratio, shows examples of the Golden ratio in nature, art and architecture and let’s users experiment with numbers to create their own geometries based on the Golden ratio.

–          The Human Anatomy Touch wall is a portrait mounted 56 inch touch screen whereby a user drags an on-screen magnifying glass over an illustrated human body revealing early Islamic knowledge of human anatomy.

–          The Muslim Polymaths touch screen honours the many Muslim scholars who have contributed to science which is still of significance today. The application shows a 3D recreation of the House of Wisdom, a scholarly institution founded in Baghdad in the ninth century. Visitors are invited to meander through a number of rooms in the building and meet representations of 40 scholars, who introduce themselves to the user with voice over.

–          Islamic scholars were knowledgeable in the science of Herbal medicine. This touch screen application emphasises the role of Muslim scholars in the field and features a lexicon of medicinal plants and their uses.

–          Islamic architecture is world renowned. 3 large touch screens deal with architectural elements, world renowned sites and arabesque patterns in architecture. The touch screens are mounted next to each other with complementing screen design in order to create the appearance of a seamless presentation.

–          The first Pharmacists touch screen presents a number of scholars who were experts in pharmaceutical science. The skilfully illustrated interface makes use of the parallax principle, which creates the illusion of a 3D space. Users navigate content by scrolling horizontally through the parallax illustration and touching items and people of interest.

–          The Virtual Books touch screen presents the original illustrations and texts of al Jazari’s seminal “Book of Knowledge of ingenious devices”.

–          Cryptography was an important application for skilled Muslim mathematicians. The touch Screen application teaches users about the origins of the field and let’s them experiment with basic principles of Cryptography.

–          Roots of Technology is another timeline application. The touch screen relates several hundred entries on Islamic contribution to science and technology to Western history writing and reveals how inventions and discoveries originating in the Muslim world were often falsely attributed to Western scholars centuries later.

–          Arabic numerals conquered Europe with flying colours. But why was it the Arabic numeral system that proved to be better than the Roman and Babylonian systems? The Numeral Systems touch screen lets users experiment and calculate with the 3 different number systems and find out for themselves.

–         The Ibn Battuta Game touch screen challenges users to travel in the footsteps of Ibn Battuta through the world of the 14th century. The goal is to pick up 5 treasures on the way. In order to move, players need to answer several multiple choice questions correctly. But watch out: The Black Death is looming.

–         At the exit of the exhibition the Quiz touch screen checks on visitors if they have memorised the most important facts displayed in the exhibition. The quiz draws from a expandable data base of ca 100 questions and displays them randomly. After 10 questions, it compares the scores of each user to the average score in the user’s age group.

The challenges

Formula D interactive and Wireframe Studio faced a number of challenges in the course of the project, the main being a very tight deadline of 6 months for design and production of all 21 exhibits.  Key technologies used in the project had to be acquired and brought to perfection rapidly, such as building the multi-touch table hardware. Last but not least, the display of content in both English and Arabic, presented a design challenge, considering Arabic is read from right to left. The design team eventually developed a genuine Arabic text display function in adobe flash as simply ranging the text right did not display the Arabic correctly.