BioPool : BioDesign Studio @ The Tech Museum

While working at Local Projects, I developed software to drive the BioPool at the BioDesign Studio exhibit at The Tech Museum. This is the exhibit centerpiece; consisting of 11 projectors beaming into a C-Shaped translucent screen. On the Inside, 4 kiosks with one tangible interface each allow visitors to interact with the installation.

My part consisted on driving the content for the 11 projectors; a simulation of user-programmed bacteria. Users can chain together DNA blocks that define how the bacterias look and behave. They can design bacterias on their station (kiosk), and then release it to the main pool for them to interact with the bacterias created by other visitors. The only goal is to learn, but to use the system one need to put on the “programmer hat”, which I suspect is quite an unusual hat for most people.

A basic grammar consisting of these pieces was designed:

“When” Pieces“How Much” Pieces“What” Pieces
When Red
When Blue
When Green
When Friends
When Strangers
When Always
A Little
A Lot

Make Red
Make Green
Make Blue
Eat Color

Pieces can be placed together in a Particular Order:

    "[1..N][[1..N]When + [1..N][HowMuch + [1..N]What]]"

to create DNA Devices. Up to 4 devices can be attached to each kiosk’s hub, creating complex behaviors. This means a bacteria can exhibit up to four simultaneous behaviors.

One minimal  example of DNA logic could be:

    WHEN("Strangers") DO("A Little") OF("Flee")

which leads to a bacteria that is idle when alon, but swims away when another bacteria is neraby.

walkthrough of the bacteria DNA / logic and the emergent behaviors

One of the goals during the bacteria design phase was to achieve a unique but identifiable look for them, mostly driven by its programming. Each “When” Piece in a bacterium DNA leads to a unique sensor attached to that bacterium’s membrane, as those sensors are responsible of triggering the “What” behavior when the sensor condition triggers. Some of the “WHAT” pieces lead to obvious visible traits; for example bacterias that can flee or follow have flagela to propel themselves.

Hardware / Development

An OpenFrameworks (C++ & OpenGL) app was built. Nvidia Mosaic was used to drive 11 x 1920×1200 Projectors across 3 x M6000 Nvidia Quadro GPUs + one Nvidia QuadroSync card to keep them in sync. We also wrote custom projector mapping + edge blending software solution. The total resolution is 13.200 x 1.920 pixels, roughly 25.3  million pixels.

A single workstation ran the show, we chose a SuperMicro with dual Intel Xeon Processor E5-2637 v2 processors.

LiquidFun was used to run the physical simulation behind the bacterium membrane, flagella and organelle structures, especially to be able to replicate the “stick” behaviour in which a bacteria can become sticky and glue itself to anything it touches.

Projection Mapping & Edge Blending Setup

Complex GLSL shaders where written to allow the drawing of all the bacteria membranes and sensors in a single pass, which turned out to be essential to keep interactive frame rates. The application can draw up to 400 different particles onscreen while keeping a smooth framerate.

The C-Shaped projection screen can also be interacted with from the outside; overhead cameras were installed to get a top view of the projection space, capturing visitors on the outside of the c-shaped projection. Optical flow tracking is used to let the visitors affect the biopool currents with their body movements, indirectly changing the lifes of the bactrium.


Popular Science
FastCompany: The Most Innovative UX Of The Year 2016
Nvidia Blog


Innovation by Design Awards
2017 Finalist for General Excellence
2016 Finalist for Graphic Design & Data Visualization
2016 Finalist for Spaces, Places, Cities
2016 Finalist for User Experience

Interaction Design Awards
2017 Finalist for Engaging


Creative Direction: Eric Mika
Project Management: Keeli Shaw
Graphic Design: Rona Binay
Lead Creative Technologist: Oriol Ferrer Mesià
Kiosk Development: Gal Sasson
Projection Mapping Addon: Dalma Földesi
Tangible Interface Production: Brooklyn Research

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