Back in the summer, I visited the Royal College of Art’s 2006 Summer Show (a longer review of which can be found over at Tom Coates’ plasticbag.org). One project that caught my eye was Manolis Kelaidis’ blueBook project, part of the Industrial Design Engineering strand. Manolis was kind enough to send me some more material relating to the project.
As digital media in the form of portable devices, touch-screens and pervasive wireless networks offer new possibilities for interaction, the traditional book starts to look rather featureless when compared to electronic versions. But the traditional book has many advantages too – not least the comfort of tradition itself. The blueBook aims to find a compromise between these two objects, between the digital and the physical.
The blueBook created at the RCA and pictured here is a traditional book over-printed with conductive ink. This conductive ink creates hyperlinks on the page which, when touched by the reader, activates a processor concealed in the cover of the book. This processor then connects via bluetooth to a nearby computer, triggering different actions.
For example, a children’s book on animals might activate sounds and videos on a screen when the printed picture of the animal is touched. Reference books may contain inline glossaries linked to Wikipedia or Google. Keywords in novels trigger incidental music. Buttons on academic papers connect to discussion forums or send feedback to the author.
Admittedly, most of these tasks are or can be done entirely in software by true ebooks, negating the (currently) high costs of printing in conductive ink and binding circuitry and processors into a physical book. But the blueBook does provide a bridge – for children, for the elderly, for those less comfortable with new technology – to ease the transition from the printed to the digitised book. Such devices are going to be much in demand, and the cost of their production is dropping rapidly.
Manolis has now graduated and is looking into ways to develop and commercialise the book, and tells me he has been talking to major publishers who seem very interested in the idea. He is also working on a tentative business plan for a company that would develop and design such books. However, it looks like that mass-production could take some time so the next stage is likely to be a short-run, specific-application implementation of the technology. We look forward to seeing where this goes.