By Cat DiStasio
Air pollution is a huge problem in cities around the globe. The widespread burning of fossil fuels combined with the destruction of air-cleaning forests results in dense concentrations of smog in large urban centers. What’s more, the World Health Organization estimates that air pollution contributes to 7 million premature deaths each year. To address this enormous public health problem, engineers from around the world have developed some cool (and crazy) gadgets to help clean up the air. In Italy, the world’s first vertical forest have inspired designers around the world, but smaller projects are actively fighting pollution too. From a sidewalk that eats smog to an air-cleaning vacuum that turns pollution into jewelry, you’ll be amazed by the ways people are working to improve air quality.
At a time when digital memories are a swipe away, instant film photography can feel tedious. But Impossible Project’s I-1 camera makes the old school format feel new again. For its first instant camera, the German company that has been producing instant film for the past eight years repackaged the nostalgia of physical photographs in a contemporary box. The matte black exterior lends modernity to the camera that evokes memories of a Polaroid camera.
To zoom in on the shape of the camera, the design team, led by Impossible Project CEO Oskar Smolokowski, 26, followed the path of the light. So the anatomy of the machine follows the function. A sloping protrusion conceals a mirror that slants at a 45-degree angle. The shape makes room for light to travel and bounce off the mirror onto the film inside. The camera’s flat base holds metal rollers that squeeze out chemicals inside the film and spread them evenly before spitting out the instant photograph through a slot in the front.
One of the most striking features of the camera is its big ring flash. Sitting bold and beautiful on the front, it helps make stunning portraits, but the ring also doubles as the user interface. From the second you press a flat round button on the side to turn on the camera, the LEDs in the ring light up to indicate the numbers of shots you have left; seven white lights and a single red one indicate a full pack of eight. A light goes out with every shot you take. The ring also switches modes to display battery levels with the same lights. You can charge the camera with a USB cable; a full charge lasts about 160 photos (or 20 packs of instant film).
What makes the I-1 feel current is that it pairs with an iOS app for digital controls. A simple twist of a disc on the side of the camera activates its Bluetooth capabilities. A blue LED indicates the pairing. Seconds later, an experienced photographer can change the aperture and focus in the manual mode in the app, or an amateur can mess around with the remote trigger, noise trigger, self-timer or use the double exposure mode that overlays two images on a single film.
Compared to a smartphone, the camera looks boxy. But at slightly less than 1 pound, it feels incredibly light for a machine that instantly spits out memories in a physical format. The I-1 retains the function of an instant camera but it’s been stripped of the bulk and the tubular viewfinder that sat atop traditional devices. Instead, there’s a small mechanical viewfinder on top that snaps on and off magnetically.
I caught up with CEO Smolokowski in New York to learn more about the company that continues to power the instant film format and the design choices that led to the I-1.
Impossible Project bought Polaroid’s last instant filmmaking factory in Holland in 2008. What led to the decision to buy the facility?
Polaroid had split. The factory was going to be scrapped. The brand got sold off separately and they were just licensing it to different products. We stepped in and bought the factory. It was the only way you could make this film. If they’d scrapped it all, you would have to invest so much money and re-engineer so much of it to bring those machines back up. We knew it would be dead if we didn’t save it.
You’ve been making instant film and even refurbishing old Polaroid cameras ever since. What led to the launch of your own instant camera, the I-1?
We always knew we needed to make a new camera for this format to give it a future. We didn’t just want to make a Polaroid reissue but to create something new. We decided to use the technology that had changed around this but we had to try and strike that balance and not lose the magic of the analog. The beauty of this is that you have to make a decision before you press the trigger, then it’s out of the camera and it’s done, you can’t delete it. You have that shot forever and we preserve that by not having a digital preview on here. But you have an app that goes with it so it gives you the control that you wouldn’t have with an instant camera before.
The process of shooting with instant film has always been unpredictable. You don’t know what you get until it’s in your hand. So what does the app add to the art of this format?
It controls the camera and teaches you about it, so it makes it more accessible. We wanted to show people what they could do with analog photography, which is new for a lot of our customers even though it’s the oldest stuff. It lets you experience it right from the phone. It feels more satisfying when you control something with an app but get something physical from it.
The camera has been in the making for the last two years. What accounted for that time?
It was quite hard to make. The LED flash is powerful. Each LED is like the one you have on your phone, so it’s like times 12. The battery is quite small but it needs to push that power out. So that took a while to get right. So did the optical system. People aren’t used to making things like this anymore, stuff with moving parts.
The spreading system is really complicated, too. It has to be superprecise. There’s chemistry on the photos. After you take a photo, the rollers in the camera squeeze the photo through so it spreads the paste across and it’s very hard to do with precision. It’s like surgical precision.
Did Polaroid’s instant cameras lack that precision?
Polaroid cameras were also precise but they made millions and millions of cameras. And we’re just starting out so it’s a different story. We don’t have the same funds and scale and manufacturers lined up to do it.
How did you home in on the design with Jesper Kouthoofd of Teenage Engineering, the Swedish studio that you roped in to design the camera?
We knew early on that we couldn’t make it fold, so we wanted it to be as small as possible. We were fighting over half a millimeter with the engineers. Because I have [a mechanical] engineering background, I’d go in and say, “No, you have the space, I know you have the space.” Same thing with the autofocus system; I wanted as many zones as possible. The engineers were, like, “Three are fine.” I’d be, like, ‘”You got space for four.” Later, I saw there’s space for a fifth one. So there’s five now!
There’s a lot of stuff I pushed hard on, and it’s been a learning experience. You can push a certain amount but you kind of have to know when to back off, unless you’re Apple and have $15 billion to develop something — then you can probably push through anything. But you have to know where to stop and say, “OK, this is not going to be easy to make.”
Did you make a conscious decision to break away from looking like a Polaroid camera?
Definitely. It’s kind of a funny place to be. We can’t say we’re Polaroid. We don’t feel like we’re Polaroid and on the other side, we can’t even do it because they’d sue us. But we had the thing that everybody would look at and say, “Oh, it’s Polaroid.” It was a big conscious decision that the camera has to be Impossible Project and not one that plays off and tries to look like Polaroid. The only reason it has the reminiscence is the function. You need the mirror here, [pointing to the slope on the camera], at 45 degrees for the light to bounce off onto the film. That’s a necessity, but for everything else we’ve tried to be different.
Impossible Project CEO Oskar Smolokowski (center)
What kind of users did you have in mind for the camera? Who do you see buying it?
For me, it’s anybody who wants to experience photography. If you look at the landscape, you have a great phone with a camera and for most people that’s enough. But it’s a gateway. If you get interested in it, you need to spend a lot of money to get a digital camera that’s a lot better than [the phone] and you make a decision about whether you’re going to take that seriously. At the end of the day it’s a better digital photo but fundamentally it’s not a different experience. But [the Impossible Project camera] is. You get this physical thing. You make fewer photos but it’s a limitation that encourages you to care about each photo. In my opinion, the user is anybody who wants to take that next step into photography. There’s also that nostalgic feeling, but it’s not only that. This experience of photography beyond digital resonates with a lot of people.
The camera, which retails for $299 online, requires a film pack that costs $20. While the cost of photographs isn’t unusual for many users who are already drawn to the aesthetics of Polaroids, what about a different kind of user who is used to free digital versions?
The funny thing is you don’t take that many photos in this format. With a good SLR camera, you’re talking about $1,000 and you’re taking hundreds of pictures that are all free but you’re not going to look at them. With this format, if someone shoots eight photos a month, that’s a heavy user.
This idea of “making real photos” seems to be a part of the company’s M.O., could you elaborate on that?
To be honest, it’s meant for the physical thing rather than saying digital photos aren’t real. We believe that it’s not pointless to take physical photos in between all of that. They will have meaning and a place in your life. You end up running into these photographs on your table, on your fridge. Interesting thing is, Facebook is doing that with Moments — “This happened a year ago.” To me, that’s like running into a photograph in your drawer and remembering that it happened a year ago. They’re recreating that digitally but it works so well physically.
What would you want to add in the next iteration?
It’ll probably be in the third camera, not the next, but I want to have an SLR and have it fold. But we need to make a lot of money to make that happen.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
[Photos by Joseph Volpe]
It may seem ludicrous to make a new instant film camera in a time where even a standalone digital camera for many is no longer a necessity. But that’s exactly what the Impossible Project has done with the I-1.
For a bit a background, in 2008, the last Polaroid film factory closed and the Impossible Project stepped in and bought its machines. It had to reengineer the instant film from scratch, but it is now the only manufacturer of original format instant films for Polaroid cameras.
But those cameras, for however good they are, are stuck in the past. The I-1 camera, on the other hand, has the simplicity of those old cameras while also taking advantage of the smartphone in your pocket.
“It’s generally a great point-and-shoot camera, but on top of that we developed an app,” said Impossible Project CEO Oskar Smolokowsi. “It’s a fully analog camera, and the app is something that helps you control it and get more features out of it.”
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The camera has built-in Bluetooth that’s used to connect to an iPhone. With the iOS app, you can remotely trigger the camera — a nice option if you want to be in your shots or simply don’t want to shake the camera by pressing the shutter release. But what really expands the camera’s usability is access to a manual mode. With it shutter speeds can be set from 1/250 of a second to 30 seconds and the aperture range covers f8 to f60.
There are also creative tools in the app for doing things like light painting and multiple exposures. Smolokowski said more of these tools are being developed in house and, depending on interest, they’re considering an open software development kit.
If you don’t want to use the app, though, you can just turn the camera on and shoot. Around the shutter release on the right side is a ring that turns the camera on (it also switches on the Bluetooth). Half-press the shutter release to focus and finish pressing down to take your shot with all the camera settings handled automatically.
The I-1 has a very simple, clean design that’s familiar, but still new.
On top is a simple pop-up viewfinder. Magnets securely hold it in place, but since it’s removable, the company plans to offer other accessories that can quickly be attached such as a waist-level viewfinder.
With a maximum aperture of f8 you’re going to need a lot of light for your shots, so there’s a ring flash around the lens to help brighten your subjects. Well, that, and letting you know how many shots are left in your pack of film. The camera can be used with Impossible I-type and 600 type film cartridges. Each pack has eight shots and costs approximately $20, £17 and AU$29 or more each (though there is a discount if you buy multiple packs). That’s $2.50 a picture.
The I-1 instant camera itself retails for $299 (AU$390, £229) and is available exclusively at the MoMA Design Store, Colette, Paul Smith and Selfridges in the UK, as well as on http://www.impossible-project.com.
It would be easy to write this off as a novelty for hipsters and, even for instant cameras, the I-1 and its film is a pricey one to own and operate. However, instant cameras are popular. If you look at Amazon.com’s best sellers in its camera category, half of the top 20 products are instant cameras or the film for them. The fact is, just like shooting and sharing with our smartphones, instant film cameras let us capture a moment and still share it instantly. So maybe making the I-1 isn’t all that ludicrous after all?
Should you still be rocking the HTC Desire 820, you’ll be thrilled to see that the Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow update is now rolling out for it. In addition to bringing it to the latest version of Android, it also bumps it up to HTC’s Sense 7.0. In addition to a newer version of Sense, the phone also gains Doze, enhanced permission controls, Now on Tap and more.
The update is only just starting to roll out according to GSMArena, so it may take a day or two for it to appear on your phone. You can check manually for the update by heading into the phone’s Settings, About phone and finally check for updates.
Why the Media Isn’t
Doing its Job
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden sat down with the Columbia Journalism Review (virtually, of course) to discuss the power of the press, using social media to fight terrorists and the concept of a global counter-terrorism task force with universal jurisdiction.
The Inside Story of Facebook’s Biggest Setback
Facebook had plans to connect millions of people in India to the internet through its Free Basics initiative. The Guardian has the story of how it all went wrong.
An Exclusive Look at Instagram’s New App Icon
Internet rage levels were high this week when Instagram made its monochrome look official. It debuted a new logo too, and Fast Company has the details on the design process.
Why I Bleed Green
Australian tennis star Nick Kyrgios talks about the perils of keeping up with your favorite team when you have to travel all the time, including trying to stream NBA games in China.
Imagine Discovering That Your Teaching Assistant Really Is a Robot
Georgia Tech AI students knew was that the TA for their online class was named Jill Watson. They didn’t know that she’s actually a computer.
The president proved that he has big scientific dreams when he announced a new effort to find a cure for cancer. Now, the White House has launched yet another ambitious project called the National Microbiome Initiative, which aims to take a closer look at the tiny world of microbes. Microbiomes or microorganism communities that live on and inside people, animals, plants and just about everywhere might be invisible to the naked eye, but they a huge effect on the way we live. They can either make us sick or make us healthy, promote or stunt the growth of plants and contribute to climate change, among many other things.
Jeff Miller, a microbiologist from the University of California, Los Angeles, told Science that the initiative will fund projects that test cause and effect. “We have incredibly interesting correlations between a certain type of bacterial community and obesity, or type 2 diabetes, or whether a plant is going to grow fast or not,” he told the publication last year. This project could determine whether these conditions are the result of particular microorganisms, or if those microbes are present because of those conditions. It could also lead to the development of various tools for microbe research, such as one that can eliminate a single species while leaving all others untouched.
The government is earmarking $121 million in federal money, which is already part of the president’s 2017 budget, for the project. Another $400 million is coming from non-government organizations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The couple’s organization is giving $100 million to the project over four years’ time to develop tools that can be used for the study of human and agricultural microbiomes. The White House has published a fact sheet right here, which also discusses previous federal involvement in microbe research.
Source: The White House, NSF Biology (Twitter)
Hedge fund billionaire David Tepper has sold his entire stake in Apple, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (via Business Insider UK).
Tepper’s 1.26 million shares in the company were last valued at around $133 million, according to data from Bloomberg. The massive sale of Apple shares is the second reported in as many months, after billionaire Carl Icahn dumped his stake in the company earlier this year based on worries over China’s attitude towards the tech giant.
Since August 2015, 146 of the 833 hedge funds tracked by Goldman Sachs had Apple as one of their largest positions, earning it the number two spot on Goldman’s list of stocks “most loved” by hedge funds.
But Apple shares have been on the decline since last month’s earnings call, where the company announced its first ever drop in iPhone sales and its first year-over-year revenue drop in 13 years.
Two days ago, shares of Apple fell below $90 for the first time in nearly two years amid investors’ concerns over slumping sales. Apple’s stock price fell 3.3% to $89.47 during Thursday afternoon trading, leaving its market valuation at $494 billion. At the same time, Google’s parent company Alphabet briefly overtook Apple as the world’s most valuable company, hitting a market cap of $498 billion.
Tag: David Tepper
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Overwatch’s massively popular beta might be over, but the game’s cadre of developers at Blizzard are already making plans of how to deal with cheaters ahead of launch: Banning them. Permanently. No three strikes rule. No cool down. Just an outright permaban. And that’s awesome. Writing on the forums, community manager Lylirra says that if a player is using hacks, bots or anything that gives her or him and unfair advantage, the banhammer will strike swiftly. If you spot someone cheating come the game’s May 24th release, send any and all information regarding such to email@example.com.
Blizzard is far from the first to make declarations such as this, but the company’s decision is incredibly welcome news. For example, Valve is taking some big steps to prevent cheating on Steam, Capcom is working to ensure that Street Fighter V players stay on the up and up, and Ubisoft is trying to keep Tom Clancy’s The Division a fair place to play as well.
Verizon is bumping its pre-paid data allotments up. Folks on the $45, 1GB month-to-month plan will have an additional 2GB of mobile data available at their fingertips come May 15th, and the $60 plan jumps from 3GB of data to 6GB. Of course, that’s if you’re enrolled in auto-pay. If not? Each plan’s data drops by 1GB. The plans include unlimited texts to Canada and Mexico, but if you want to make unlimited calls to either of our immediate continental neighbors, you’ll have to pony up for the most expensive plan.
Via: The Verge
Starting today, Project Spark, Microsoft’s quirky game creation game, is no longer for sale. And come August 12th, the servers will be shut down, Thomas Gratz of developer Team Dakota writes. As a consolation, anyone who bought the retail version “starter kit” will get a credit to their Microsoft account. If you redeemed the code inside after October 5th of last year (when the game went free-to-play) and prior to today, you’ll get a credit to use in the Xbox or Windows stores. Gratz says that the credits will be automatically applied for eligible customers.
There is some silver lining though. Gratz notes that no layoffs occurred as team members transitioned to other places within Microsoft after active development of the tool stopped last fall. Maintaining its behind the scenes aspects wasn’t possible with a small group, though, hence the shut-down. Farewell, Project Spark, and thanks for giving Xbox One owners a chance at playing a version of P.T. on their console.
Source: Project Spark