Technology: Bringing WordsWorth to Life

WordsWorth was built with new technology applications developed at Vanderbilt University. The exhibit uses software specially developed to access an XML feed of new search terms updated every 22 seconds. Words are initially selected by length to fit each shape, then projected in one of three colors. The initial bold font quickly fades to white then more slowly fades through the grayscale to the lightest shade before disappearing. The fade is randomized giving a sense of movement, depth, and a shimmering effect.

New terms are collected anonymously and checked against a multi-lingual list of objectionable terms before being added to the feed. The XML list is harvested by a custom-developed program which first parses the list of words and phrases into sets with the specific character counts needed to build the shapes projected onto the floor. If it finds no new search terms, it falls back to a file of historical search terms. A mathematical algorithm selects the character count needed for each pattern and attempts to randomize which words or phrases are used so that no specific word or phrase continuously appears in the same location in the shape. The program then builds the shapes using the selected strings and passes this information through the interactive software. The shapes include three Vanderbilt icons: an oak leaf, a star and the “V.” Finally, the program randomly scatters words or phrases, gently disturbing the static shape to give the exhibit more life.

WordsWorth "V" ShapeThe interactive component of the exhibit is acheived using a video reactive software system paired with an infrared camera and two infrared emitters mounted in the ceiling adjacent to the projector. The camera reads reflected infrared light and the body heat created by a person passing through a 10’ square grid at the floor level around WordsWorth. This information is relayed to a control program which signals the system to react by "scattering" the projected words in random but limited ways.

When someone approaches the projection the words scatter gently at the edge of the pattern. As the person enters the center of the area the scattering of words is faster and more wide-spread. As the person leaves the grid, the words slowly return to the original shape. If no one enters the area, the display is randomly and gently scattered. The effect is generally described as light rippling off a stream or pond of water.