Topics: College of Fine Arts, Emerging Media, College of Communication Information and Media

November 28, 2007

What if, having just returned home from the supermarket with no idea what to make for dinner, you could simply place a stalk of broccoli or package of chicken on a reading device and retrieve a list of recipes on a computer screen? Some Ball State students hope their project could lead to that.

Through the university's Center for Media Design (CMD) and its Institute for Digital Intermedia Arts and Animation  (IDIAA), the students have developed a three-dimensional media browser that uses plastic blocks embedded with RFID chips. The blocks, each of which has a screenshot from one of several video files, interact with a virtual reality environment that plays video and sound. When a block is placed on the reader, one of dozens of floating cubes in the virtual reality environment comes to the foreground and plays the corresponding video.

"We're investigating the intersection between the arts and technology," said John Fillwalk, associate professor of art and director of IDIAA. "It has a lot of potential as a media browser."

The students, who come from the art, architecture, telecommunications and music departments, recently returned from national conference of the International Digital Media and Arts Association in Philadelphia, where they won an award of excellence. The award goes to two out of 12 participating universities and includes a $250 cash prize.

The students had a lot of ideas for applications of their project.

"The main possibility is that you can use real objects to interact with a virtual environment," said David Schultz, a doctoral candidate who worked on programming and design. "It's a really cool concept, but I think it's just a gateway to what could be done."

The creative environment of the IDIAA attracted Nick Johnson, a senior studying music technology.

"People are really interested in exploring new concepts and new ideas," Johnson said. "I feel I have an opportunity to be creative in that realm."

That's the kind of realm IDIAA staff hope to create.

"What we are providing is an interdisciplinary environment that supports project-based student led experiences," Fillwalk said. "I believe these sorts of projects are putting Ball State on the map as an innovator in developing creative content for emerging technologies."

Ball State's Center for Media Design (CMD) is part of the $20 million Digital Exchange initiative funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. to enhance the university's innovative, immersive and educational experiences for students in digital technology.

CMD administers four institutes: the News Research Institute (NRI), the Institute for Digital Entertainment and Education (IDEE), the Institute for Digital Intermedia Arts and Animation (IDIAA) and the Institute for Digital Fabrication (IDF).

For more information, contact Fillwalk at 765-285-2642 or