Transdisciplinary Design

Spaceship Earth Revisited

Posted on December 9, 2010 | posted by:

Interacting with Tangible Earth at the Cooper Hewitt Museum


Did you ever play with a world globe when you were young? Imagine having one that digitally interacts with you and indicates what the weather patterns are like in Tokyo today. It’s similar to what the I-phone can do but this is far more advanced. It allows you to visualize thick clouds heavily storming over the archipelago in the mist of June during the rainy season. Or you can see birds migrating down to the south, as the temperature gets colder. Perhaps you can hear the bells from the Sistine Chapel ring in St. Peters without having to take a trip to Italy.  All this could happen in rea-time. Imagine…

A few weeks ago, some classmates and I were given the opportunity to attend one of Bill Moggridge’s Design Talk sessions at the Cooper Hewitt Museum. The guest speaker for the evening was a Professor from Japan, Shinichi Takemura. He demonstrated the magical capabilities of his interactive multimedia representation of our planet, the Tangible Earth. Surprisingly, Takemura’s background is not an interactive media designer but is an anthropologist. He explained that this shift gradually occurred due to his passion and interest in helping change the way people perceive the world.

The Tangible Earth is 1.28m diameter glowing globe that scales 1/1,000,000,000 of the real thing. And the mechanics apparently are not that complicated as it projects onto an acrylic sphere using a fish-eye lens technique. However, the true beauty is its capability to assimilate various data from different sources and visualize Earth’s condition in a real-time effect from daylight projection to indication of weather patterns. This scientific data that is carefully being rigged also enables the Tangible Earth to reveal predictions of events such as global warming, ocean current movements, and earthquake patterns. Even the displacements of air pollutant into the atmosphere such as CO2 and sulfur dioxide can be portrayed. By showing us this reality, it conjured realizations about how we share one planet rather than inhabiting separate nations.

Professor Takemura is hoping that the Tangible Earth can be distributed in schools around the world in hopes to change education. Even within the short period of time I interacted with it, I was mesmerized by the beauty of the dynamic projection and could not keep my hands off of it. With a design such as the Tangible Earth, we start to understand visually the mechanics of how our Spaceship Earth works. It allows us to realize that we live is such a beautiful planet that we influence its change every second of everyday.

Can design really help children learn more about the realities of our Earth by means of play? Or perhaps if this information were to make its way onto the internet, can this design help people understanding the sensitivities of our planet and get people involved? Can this really affect a change?