Technology

FutureEverything gathers technology's avant garde

Artists, musicians, engineers and hackers from around the world recently descended on Manchester for a three day celebration of digital culture.

Now in its 15th year, FutureEverything (previously called Futuresonic) has quietly established itself as an annual gathering for the technology avant garde.

With a £10,000 prize up for grabs for the best innovation, the stakes were high for the exhibitors at a local pop-up art gallery called The Hive.

Runners-up included "Prime Numerics", an algorithm-based computer programme developed to perform real-time live analysis of the language used by the three UK party political leaders during the last televised debate before the election.

(According to its results David Cameron used the most present tense verb, Gordon Brown used the longest words and Nick Clegg expressed the most positive emotions.)

The first prize went to Eyewriter, a team who developed a pair of glasses designed to track and record eye movement, enabling people to draw pictures using their eyes.

It was designed for Californian graffiti artist Tony Quan, who has ALS, a form of motor neurone disease. His eyes are the only part of his body that he can move.

The whole project is open source said team member Evan Roth - and the most technical component is a hacked webcam from a PlayStation 3.

"Everything else looks cobbled together but part of the idea was to make it from accessible material," he told BBC News.

"You could put it together at home without a soldering iron for about £30."

Global gathering

Those unable to make it to the north west of England were invited to join a virtual meeting.

Groups in five cities around the world including Sao Paulo and Sendai joined the conference via a network system called Glonet designed specifically for one day of the event and co-ordinated on big screens.

"It's all about group-to-group connectivity," said FutureEverything founder and director Drew Hemment.

"Broadcasting is about one [person talking to] to many, the web is many to many - this is group to group."

Mr Hemment believes FutureEverything has become an influential event.

"It's changed from being a festival that's just about showing cool things to really trying to change things and make an impact," he said.

Meanwhile Skype-enabled webcams sitting inside boxes on coffee tables allowed more intimate conversations between individual groups in the host cities - although the time difference was a bit of a problem for some.

Jon Grant and Jamie Williams were packing up at 11pm in Sendai, Japan, as we arrived at a tabletop box in one of the Manchester venues mid-afternoon British Summer Time.

They were confident that the Glonet experiment would work after a long day of rigorous testing.

"We haven't had lunch yet," said Mr Grant.

Fab Lab

Manchester's newly-opened Fab Lab also threw open its doors with an eight hour challenge for anyone with a good idea to make a prototype product using the lab's computer controlled 3D printers, laser cutters and wood carver for free.

Image caption In the real world, Argleton is an unmarked field in Lancashire.

One visitor who took up the challenge was visual artist Rosie Farrell.

She was inspired by an anomaly on Google maps to create a signpost for the town of Argleton, which does not exist but appeared as a name in the L39 postcode on the digital map.

Google claims to have no idea why it was there and has since removed it, although it still appears in name on Google Streetview.

"Digitally the town exists but not in the real world," said Ms Farrell, who intends to put her signpost on the site of the fictional place.

"I like the idea of taking an imaginary place and making something real for it. It's a nice thought that data isn't always right."

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