Stealth Objects and Scanning Mist

The London-based architectural group ScanLAB—founded by Matthew Shaw and William Trossell—has been doing some fascinating work with laser scanners.

Here are three of their recent projects.

1) Scanning Mist. Shaw and Trossell "thought it might be interesting to see if the scanner could detect smoke and mist. It did and here are the remarkable results!"

[Images: From Scanning the Mist by ScanLAB].

In a way, I'm reminded of photographs by Alexey Titarenko.

2) Scanning an Artificial Weather System. For this project, ScanLAB wanted to "draw attention to the magical properties of weather events." They thus installed a network of what they call "pressure vessels linked to an array of humidity tanks" in the middle of England's Kielder Forest.

[Image: From Slow Becoming Delightful by ScanLAB].

These "humidity tanks" then, at certain atmospherically appropriate moments, dispersed a fine mist, deploying an artificial cloud or fog bank into the woods.

[Image: From Slow Becoming Delightful by ScanLAB].

Then, of course, Shaw and Trossell laser-scanned it.

3) Subverting Urban-Scanning Projects through "Stealth Objects." The architectural potential of this final project blows me away. Basically, Shaw and Trossell have been looking at "the subversion of city scale 3D scanning in London." As they explain it, "the project uses hypothetical devices which are installed across the city and which edit the way the city is scanned and recorded."
Tools include the "stealth drill" which dissolves scan data in the surrounding area, creating voids and new openings in the scanned urban landscape, and "boundary miscommunication devices" which offset, relocate and invent spatial data such as paths, boundaries, tunnels and walls.
The spatial and counter-spatial possibilities of this are extraordinary. Imagine whole new classes of architectural ornament (ornament as digital camouflage that scans in precise and strange ways), entirely new kinds of building facades (augmented reality meets LiDAR), and, of course, the creation of a kind of shadow-architecture, invisible to the naked eye, that only pops up on laser scanners at various points around the city.

[Images: From Subverting the LiDAR Landscape by ScanLAB].

ScanLAB refers to this as "the deployment of flash architecture"—flash streets, flash statues, flash doors, instancing gates—like something from a short story by China Miéville. The narrative and/or cinematic possibilities of these "stealth objects" are seemingly limitless, let alone their architectural or ornamental use.

Imagine stealth statuary dotting the streetscape, for instance, or other anomalous spatial entities that become an accepted part of the urban fabric. They exist only as representational effects on the technologies through which we view the landscape—but they eventually become landmarks, nonetheless.

For now, Shaw and Trossell explain that they are experimenting with "speculative LiDAR blooms, blockages, holes and drains. These are the result of strategically deployed devices which offset, copy, paste, erase and tangle LiDAR data around them."

[Images: From Subverting the LiDAR Landscape by ScanLAB].

Here is one such "stealth object," pictured below, designed to be "undetected" by laser-scanning equipment.

Of course, it is not hard to imagine the military being interested in this research, creating stealth body armor, stealth ground vehicles, even stealth forward-operating bases, all of which would be geometrically invisible to radar and/or scanning equipment.

In fact, one could easily imagine a kind of weapon with no moving parts, consisting entirely of radar- and LiDAR-jamming geometries; you would thus simply plant this thing, like some sort of medieval totem pole, in the streets of Mogadishu—or ring hundreds of them in a necklace around Washington D.C.—thus precluding enemy attempts to visualize your movements.

[Images: A hypothetical "stealth object," resistant to laser-scanning, by ScanLAB].

Briefly, ScanLAB's "stealth object" reminds me of an idea bandied about by the U.S. Department of Energy, suggesting that future nuclear-waste entombment sites should be liberally peppered with misleading "radar reflectors" buried in the surface of the earth.

The D.O.E.'s "trihedral" objects would produce "distinctive anomalous magnetic and radar-reflective signatures" for anyone using ground-scanning equipment above. In other words, they would create deliberate false clues, leading potential future excavators to think that they were digging in the wrong place. They would "subvert" the scanning process.

In any case, read more at ScanLAB's website.

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4 Comments:

Anonymous Jeremy Delgado said...

Fascinating.

The last two images remind me of the 3d cloud graphs by Edward Tufte

http://www.edwardtufte.com/bboard/images/00008m-114.jpg

The laser scanning methods would be an interesting way to further the current interest in better infographics.

Also the Suberting the LiDAR landscape images remind me of some of the images made by Dilip da Cunha in SOAK

http://lh4.ggpht.com/_yiiPzeRfNBQ/TJAMZlQxckI/AAAAAAAAAqY/-ooaHIEHmkY/s800/100628_slurry4_2_soak.jpg

Awesome stuff, thanks for writing about it.

April 25, 2011 9:02 PM  
Blogger brian_ said...

William Gibson wrote about an 'invisible art' in his novel 'Spook Country,' where digital artists hid or inserted information into physical places that could be seen or read by a device like a pair of glasses/goggles.

I also think that there is a possible extension of this idea to LAYR, the popular mobile device app.

Architects and designers now have another realm in which to add beauty and information to their projects.

April 27, 2011 2:42 PM  
Anonymous MaximusNYC said...

Yes, what Gibson referred to several years ago as "locative art" is now better known as "augmented reality". If you Google it you'll find quite a few people are doing it. An artist friend of mine here in New York has designed augmented reality pieces that can be viewed on an iPhone.

Actually, the "stealth objects" remind me of something from Gibson's most recent novel, Zero History. It's a t-shirt with a pattern on it which makes the person wearing it undetectable on surveillance cameras. The implication is that the CCTV system has been secretly laced with code that will 1) recognize the design of the shirt and 2) actually edit the wearer out of the footage.

April 29, 2011 4:28 PM  
Blogger michael said...

Did this 10 years ago in my Digital Cartography studio at Yale

May 10, 2011 12:46 AM  

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