Why we’re funding the Voight-Kampff project – and how it could change the world

Innovation and creativity are the two things my wife and I look for in projects to fund through the Jean François et Marie-Laure de Clermont Tonnerre foundation. So, when we met Adam Kampff and heard about the Voight-Kampff project, it was a true meeting of minds. We just had to get involved.

Voight-Kampff aims to create an entirely new form of space where the physical and virtual merge. Think of a world without reliance on 2D screens to interact with the online virtual environment. The goal is for a world without screens and to create a new form of space.

It will enable people to transform a room into anything – an immersive experience without the need for 3D or VR glasses. The possibilities are endless. From a child playing in a fairytale castle world right there in their bedroom to artists using it to create an immersive art experience at a level never before seen, I’m incredibly excited to see how far Voight-Kampff technology will take us.

Who’s behind the Voight-Kampff project?

The Voight-Kampff team is made up of artists, neuroscientists and tech experts who are all united in this mission to design technology that works in the way our brains want to work – using space instead of screens. Our foundation is funding the initial creation of a prototype, all the way to the first iteration of the Voight-Kampff space that will form a truly innovative framework for immersive art.

Headed by lead scientist Adam Kampff, the Voight-Kampff project is named after the machine in the Philip K. Dick novella Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which became the Ridley Scott classic film Blade Runner. The machine is the last line of defence in distinguishing between humans and replicants (artificial humans). Adam may not yet have met a fellow scientist named Voight, but as a neurologist and computer scientist, his mission has always been to create and build technology to keep humans one step ahead of their creations.

What is the Voight-Kampff project?

Recent discoveries within neuroscience show that the human brain uses the 3D environments in which we exist to give us context for information. If the part of our brain (the hippocampus) that represents this ‘space’ is damaged, then it can no longer store new information. This led Adam to ask the question: what happens when information is removed from space?

He says: “We all need a way to interact with each other and digital information in space. The team behind Voight-Kampff have developed a new technology that can do this by using hundreds of mini laser projectors to create and control all the light in a room.”

“What we want is a screenless interaction between the virtual and physical worlds.”

Here’s how Voight-Kampff technology works

Adam Kampff says: “We already use light projection to display digital images in space. For example, we’re all familiar with a projector used to screen a movie onto a wall. And we’re increasingly familiar with virtual and augmented reality (V/AR), which place information in space but only by using screens (whether a viewer or a tool like Google Glass) in front of the user’s eyes. However, this cuts the person off from true social interaction as these screens act as a barrier between people. What we want is a screenless interaction between the virtual and physical worlds.

“Other problems that break immersion when users interact with projected displays include the shadow formed by the person’s body in the physical space. Blocking the source of light will break the virtual illusion. Voight-Kampff technology solves this issue by using at least four projection directions per surface. This requires projectors to be positioned at multiple angles relative to the surface. Conventional projectors can’t do this, and therefore can’t create the multi-view, shadow-free display that Voight-Kampff can.

“We use laser-beam steering projectors instead. These don’t have a fixed focal plane, so the image has ‘infinite focus’ created by sweeping a narrow laser beam in a rectangular pattern – sort of like bar code scanners. Laser beam steering projectors use very little power (less than an LED), are cheap and don’t need cooling by fans. One of their few limitations is how dim they are, but we realised we can overcome this by coordinating the output of multiple projectors to create a new kind of display technology that we call ‘volumetric’.”

“It means my daughter can flick a wand and make it snow in her bedroom. Or an artist can create an unprecedentedly seamless interactive exhibition that will be truly immersive.”

Fusing the physical and virtual space

With all of the light in a room (or space) generated by laser projectors, the user can control every spot and every surface. This means they can merge the digital and the physical in any way they want. Adam says: “I might show a diagram, a document or an image and arrange them in the 3D space that our brains want to use to interact with digital information. It means my daughter can flick a wand and make it snow in her bedroom. Or an artist can create an unprecedentedly seamless interactive exhibition that will be truly immersive.”

And while the team is focusing on active demos and working towards building the space for an art exhibition, the ability to do infinite things in the Voight-Kampff space will soon be a reality. “We’re not so far away from that,” says Adam. “And with Jean-François’ funding and support we’re able to build this platform for anyone to use. We’re humanising digital technology and providing a platform that works with our brain, fusing the physical and virtual world.

“The first step is taking over a room with the technology and meeting Jean-François was life-changing because we have the same goals, and with his backing we can achieve this. It’s really important that this technology is open to everyone, and not hidden behind a brand or business that wants to box it in. Those that want to know exactly how it works will be able to find out, and they can build apps from there. Nothing will be closed or protected for Voight-Kampff, and the platform will not host advertising or collect data. And while many investors were put off by this, Jean-François understood this immediately. We both want people to be aware of the possibilities of science ad technology and increase what the world can know about this.”

Why the foundation is proud to fund Voight-Kampff

We’re always incredibly excited by new ideas, and as the first iteration of the Voight-Kampff project plans to set up a new kind of art display space to demonstrate the technology it fits right into one  of our main spheres of interest. The foundation is funding the entirety of the first step of the project, which will create a fully working Voight-Kampff space in an art gallery.

Art galleries and displays are just one of many functionalities that this technology could eventually provide. The first step is to create the first Voight-Kampff space fully optimised at room scale so that artists can use it to create new immersive experiences to demonstrate this ‘post-screen’ future. It will enable people to transform any room into anything, without the need for 3D glasses, AR or VR. This opens up an immense realm of possibilities and by making it available to the art world first, its possibilities will be fully explored and demonstrated.

By the end of 2020 we’re hoping to finalise the art galleries who will take part and by mid-2021 be in a position to furnish them with everything they need to create a full-scale Voight-Kampff space.

Adds Adam: “My dream is to create a Voight-Kampff school offering PhD level students a curriculum that teaches them what happens in today’s world and exactly how it works. Over the last 30 years, the tech world has focused on teaching people how to use it, but not why it works. If we lose this ability to learn why tech works the way it does, we are facing an existential threat. Humanity needs to spend so much more time explaining the new stuff it creates, rather than using it to actually think less. Voight-Kampff can cross this barrier and open up a whole new world.”