Softlab transforms 'empty' space with light and mirrors

Recently, Engadget visited The Lab, HP's trippy art exhibition incongruously placed in the middle of the Panorama Music Festival in NYC. It proved surprisingly popular among festival-goers thanks to the visual and auditory sensory experiences (and possibly because illegal substances were involved). One in particular stood out from a technological and artistic point of view, however: "Volume," an installation by NYC's SOFTLab.

The installation (below) is made up of 100 mirrored panels that move individually through custom servos, tracking viewers as they move around them via a depth camera array. "Using a weighted average of the various people being tracked, the mirrors rotate to face the nearest person," SOFTLab explains. Those mirrors reflect only the light and the viewers, thanks to the sparse setting around them.

Meanwhile, LEDs controlled by microphones move the mirror panels up and down based on the ambient sound coming from around the installation. The overall effect is of light pulsing and swarming back and forth, with mirrors reflecting the spectators in weird slices, all set to appropriately spacey music.

The whole thing is controlled by a computer with a visual interface depicting the mirrors that can be rotated in 3D. It can be tweaked for greater intensity and the number of exhibition viewers. (For more on how the exhibit was done technically, check out the making-of video.)

Like the other Panorama installations, Volume was designed to invoke "whoa" reactions from the viewers and present good selfie opportunities. However, you can read more into it if you're into techie art. "The installation was inspired by the ability of light and sound to form space through reflection and their dependence on atmosphere," SOFTLab points out. In other words, it's meant to make us think a bit more about space that we normally consider empty.

The designers aim to show that it's a good thing it's not empty. "Small changes in this volume of transparent material allows light and sound to move through space," it notes. "The mirrors in our installation represent these particles acting in harmony to challenge and enhance what we see."

To look at it another way, the exhibition is showing that there's often more behind things than what you can see. By tracking your movement and sounds, and responding dramatically in kind, "Volume" illustrates neatly that the shallow way we often perceive things and people can completely change how they behave in return.