Hands on With the IBM THINK Exhibit

Hands on With the IBM THINK Exhibit

Joelle Alcaidinho
Sep 29, 2011

Recently we had the opportunity to check out the IBM THINK exhibit in NYC's Lincoln Center. This exhibit was right up our alley since it is all about the intersection of design and technology with a focus on making the world a better place. Read on to learn more about this LED light filled exhibit and the design influences on the project.

We are frequent Lincoln Center visitors and have never seen any exhibit like this in the plaza space. It is no surprise that this free exhibit, which IBM created in honor of their centennial took just over two weeks to install.

IBM VP of Design Lee Green says that he and his team were strongly influenced by Charles and Ray Eames in their work for IBM on exhibits and films like the Powers of 10 film, Mathmatica exhibit, and the World's Fair Exhibition in 1964. The goal behind the design was to take complexity in Science, Math and Technology and simplify it in a way that people could understand and connect with. This exhibit could have been IBM artifacts since it has been 100 years but instead they took a page from Eames and decided to share stories about progress to represent the work that IBM has done with clients.

The THINK exhibit which is open to the public till October 23 is made up of primarily two sections, the outdoor LED Data Visualization Wall and the indoor Immersive Media Experience which contains a short film on interactive displays. The Data Visualization Wall is as impressive as is the data that it displays. This wall is like a giant changing infographic displaying data gathered by technology to improve on different issues like traffic and air quality.

Much of the data that the wall displays is collected in real time from several points in the city. This lends an extra layer of credibility to the data and makes it all that more interesting. Being able to collect data about where the issues are located is the first step in improving them and anyone who has sat for in traffic knows it would be really nice to get that issue improved on.

The 123' x 11' Data Visualization Wall is made up of 10mm LED tiles which alone weigh 37,800 lb. The display is easy to see in bright light and the benches along the wall are a great place to sit and watch the changing display.

While the Data Visualization Wall is about general ways in which data can improve lives, opposite of the wall are panels talking about different ways in which this technology is currently used in the real world. These urban initiatives by IBM are called Smart Cities projects and some of them include cities like Portland, Stockholm and Rio de Janeiro.

Since the focus of the exhibit is using technology to make a better world, it should come as no surprise that the materials for the floor are green. We liked the feel of the floor in the outdoor space as it felt a bit bouncy and was so welcome after all the hard concrete we encounter in the city. While it looks like stone, it is actually ECOsurfaces Commercial Flooring that is comprised of post-consumer tire rubber.

The Immersive Media Experience contains 20 media columns, each column features (2) 85" Plasmas with touchscreens. The walls are mirrored and because of the angle of the columns and the design of the space it is easy to glimpse multiple displays simultaneously.

IBM teamed up with WGBH to create an app to provide several foreign language and English subtitles for the film. The app runs on Apple iPod Touch devices which you can pick up at the same time as your free ticket for the timed film.

After the columns in the Immersive Media Experience display the short film you are free to navigate the space and interact with several columns. These columns are fun to investigate, especially for history buffs. I particularly enjoyed the Mapping column and exploring the historical maps.

As you exit the Immersive Media Experience you can browse the Icons of Progress which is basically an IBM innovation timeline highlighting IBM inventions in several areas throughout the past 100 years. An interactive version of this wall is available here.

Those not in NYC, do not despair, IBM hopes to bring portions of this exhibit to other cities in the country. For those in the area, we strongly suggest visiting the exhibit as it an interesting way to spend some time in the city and won't cost you a cent. Did we mention that the Data Visualization Wall is really nifty?

(Images: Joelle Alcaidinho)

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