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Warp Square

Mixed Reality CAVE experience

Composing the "next story" with a unique interface

When you hear the phrase "research and development" (R&D),
you probably picture manufacturing engineers working on product development.
At Sony, though, R&D goes beyond engineering—it's a big, active part of the design realm, too.
The Warp Square project is a perfect example of that involvement.
We recently got the chance to talk with four Warp Square project members
about the new design "realms" that they're envisioning for the Sony of tomorrow.

The key roles of in-house designers

Can you tell us a bit about the Warp Square project?

Ogura (project leader) : Our basic mission is to research and develop a format for showcasing interactive content, which means formulating the whole concept for an interactive booth and then creating original content to go in it. The team's role in the Warp Square project only goes as far as content development, but the initiative is kind of an extension of the interactive CUBE_1 space that Sony Design created from scratch at ISETAN The Japan Store Kuala Lumpur and opened in October 2016.

The Warp Square is a space that uses ultra-short-throw projectors to cast interactive, high-definition imagery on the four walls of a room with a floor area of around 20 square meters, letting multiple users share immersive audiovisual experiences. The goal was new value for interactive content, which meant that we had to be as original as possible. That's why we chose to create four surface-specific displays instead of operating within the more common framework of full 360-degree projection.

Ohki (designer) : At Sony, you see a lot of technologies that seem so cool and innovative—but you can't tell exactly what they're supposed to do or how you're supposed to use them. That's where in-house designers can be a real asset. We can go in, talk with the engineers, come up with new concepts and user-friendly operations that the engineering team hasn't thought of, and start infusing the technologies with fresh, innovative value. For me, personally, that's where in-house designers make a difference.

Our first thinking in creating the contents was how to take advantage of corners and edges of flat walls. The idea that we came up with was to create a discontinuous content with a continuous feel.

Trying things out:
the key to real feedback

The team created three graphics packages for the exhibit. What went into discussing and developing the visual concepts?

Nonoyama (designer) : We started out exploring ideas for content that would make the space seem more expansive, but nothing really grabbed us—it was like we'd seen that kind of thing before. The last thing we wanted was something derivative, so we concentrated on doing something completely different. That's when Ohki floated the "discontinuous but continuous" concept, an approach where the four walls would have separate visual identities but also feature common, linking elements. Once the conceptual foundation took shape, the details started falling into place.

Honda (designer) : We just kept throwing out ideas until everything came together. When we got to work on developing the actual content, we used a full-size environment to see exactly how the technology would perform in a realistic setting. You can't really replicate that feeling on a computer; having an authentic testing environment was a huge help.

It was a bit hard to find the right balance between impressive visuals and compelling interactions. Say someone's watching the walls as a complete whole, taking in the beauty of the composite. If you put too many interactions in there, you might distract the viewer and undermine the visual experience. I doubt we would've picked up on that without actually trying the technology out in an authentic environment.

Ohki : Another thing we focused on was fostering communication—the whole goal was to have multiple people use the space at the same time, so we wanted them to connect. We got a lot out of being able to try the technology out for ourselves and pinpoint the keys to optimal dialogue.

Designing the ultimate in natural,
satisfying interactivity

Where does Warp Square go from here?

Ogura : The Warp Square is a sensory space concept, fusing together video, sound, and interaction, so the B-to-B amusement segment would be a good first target area. I think we could position it for use in commercial spaces and educational settings, too. There might even be possibilities on the B-to-C side; when we talk with the engineering team, we always dream about a future where every house has a Warp Square room. Who knows—that could be a reality someday. If there's ever a demand for simulating specific environments at home, the Warp Square would be a feasible solution.

Our exhibit at SXSW 2017 provided us with so much valuable feedback. Now, it's time for us to figure out how to translate that input into better technology—and we've got to keep that feedback-improvement loop going. Whatever happens, I want to keep trying to harmonize our vision with customer values. That means committing ourselves to more experiments, more trials, and more tests.

Ohki : Right now, even, there's a lot we can do to create even better, more satisfying interactions. I think we have to figure out the right recipes for maximum fun, combining intuitiveness with creative twists on what interactions can be.

At the heart of every Sony Design project is a "story," a combination of characters, materials, and content. It's our job to design the technologies for weaving the elements of a story together into a whole—but we can be part of the story-writing process itself, too. For us, then, the Warp Square is a platform for composing Sony Design's next story.

(L to R) Honda (designer), Ohki (designer), Nonoyama (designer), Ogura (project leader)