Deep Window

A proposal by Kevin Hester ([email protected])
The current copy of this document can be found at
Last update: 4/6/2000
Version: 0.2 – based on a crude email that I didn't keep
Please read this proposal and send feedback - I've tried to address the excellent feedback I've already received. If you think this idea is compelling, please forward it to folks that might like to use these ‘windows.’ I'm going to produce a couple of prototypes – but I want to know what people would like.  I might even be able to find funding for the real units.
If you are perhaps interested in an exhibit like this, but don't know if I have the right background - please see my horribly out of date home page.

Project Overview

Wouldn't it be cool if you could see through a window – but a window that goes to another part of the world.  This window wouldn't be complex to use – in fact you wouldn't use it at all.  You would simply walk past a ‘picture frame’ and exchange glances with someone who happens to be thousands of miles away.
The first thing you might notice is an image of yourself approaching the exhibit. I believe that many people will react to seeing themselves by making a funny face or waving – much like shoppers in a video camera store. This will likely lure someone to the other side of the window – which occupies most of the frame. A museum visitor in San Francisco would find that they are smiling and waving to a similar guest in Brazil or someone shopping in Tokyo.

Project Goals

This project is not simply applying technology because it is possible – in fact the desire is to make the technology invisible. There are four goals for this project, listed in order of decreasing priority:


This project is best considered an interactive painting – a window where your behavior alone is a performance for someone else. It is valuable because far away places and distant people are outside of our daily routine.

Understanding others

The purpose of pointing these windows at distant places is to make people understand that in the important ways we are alike:
We smile when we are happy – particularly when someone smiles back.
We wave back if someone waves to us.


Even though I started this project with a desire to make some distance disappear – simply using these windows will be fun.


Education on how this exhibit works can be done as a ‘sidebar.’ This description need not overwhelm the simplicity of the window metaphor.  It would explain the science on how the image is captured and sent through the Internet.

The user experience

This section of the document will eventually include a picture of the installed exhibit (Becky?). For now the following description will have to suffice.

A Picture frame

As far as the user is concerned – they see only a picture frame. Hidden within the frame is a small camera and the central portion of the frame is a high quality LCD screen.

A Plaque

A plaque should be located near each window – showing where this particular window is pointing. This sign should let the user understand this is an interactive and artistic experience.  In an art museum setting this plaque should be identical in style to the plaques used for static artworks.
Dutch Subway Platform
electrons on silicon
Artist: you and [email protected]


An important part of this exhibit is to see both the other side of the window and a smaller view of the user. I initially considered having a literal window metaphor without the view of the user.  Now I think that showing the local user in an inset frame is useful:


The width and height of the ‘window’ is heavily dependent on the budget for the LCD screen. A less than $5K exhibit would have a 14.1” diagonal screen – each frame with hidden camera would be approximately 18” wide x 14” tall x 6” thick  These dimensions allow the entire exhibit to be hidden within the frame.
Larger exhibits are possible – the main restriction is display cost. The cost of LCD or plasma screens increase dramatically with size. A 44” wide plasma screen could form the core of a grand window frame, but the cost for the screen alone is about $15K. See below for other thoughts on this issue.


Some people I've proposed this idea to have said, “where is the keyboard? How can you communicate with the other person?” I'm proposing an exhibit that truly looks and works like a window. Other extensions may follow (see below for some ideas).
I think this restriction of only communicating by facial expression or gestures will increase the communication that is most important for the exhibit – people will smile and wave to someone who looks different. This window does not require translation or the ability to read – you need only your eyes.

How-it-works sidebar

For some installations an educational ‘how it works’ sidebar would be appropriate. This sidebar would be about one foot wide and two and a half feet tall. A future version of this document will include proposed wording for the sidebar.

Visit length

I expect that a typical viewer would play with this exhibit for 10-60 seconds. If they are curious about this as more than art, then they might spend three minutes reading the sidebar piece.

Technical Description

This section attempts to describe the technical background on how this exhibit would work. This section will be expanded as I begin work on the prototype.

Off the shelf

The key to making something like this quickly/cheaply is in using off the shelf hardware and software – particularly because I'm doing this as a hobby.
For now I'll simply list the general choices for both hardware and software. After the prototype I'll construct a full bill of materials.



Although I think Linux is super spiffy – the current support for cameras and USB is a bit weak. Unless the camera support improves, I'll use Windows 98. A small application will do setup and drive standard video streaming software.
Potentially deep windows would stream to a central site – to allow not only the sister window to receive images, but also users on the web.

Remote extensibility

The software will include the ability to be updated remotely – so the exhibit can be modified without visiting every window physically.


By extending the standard network setup code it will be easy for a low-tech person to setup the window and designate where the sister window is located.

Ethernet or Modem

The deep window will include an analog modem for installations where no high-bandwidth Ethernet connection is available. In this case, the modem will be configured to auto-dial an appropriate ISP on startup (or any time the connection is lost).

LCD Screen dimensions.

The screen will be at least a 14” diagonal LCD. See below for other ideas on displays.


Guidelines for placement:
  1. Windows should be installed in ‘high traffic’ areas: The value of this exhibit depends on people realizing that there are other humans on the other side of the glass.
  2. Window placement should consider visiting times. A daytime site in San Francisco should be paired with a sight of approximate longitude (i.e. Brazil) or a nighttime site in Japan.
  3. Because this is a visual medium – it may be best to point windows where people look most different from each other.
  4. If there are many children visiting a place with multiple deep windows – some windows should be installed at ‘kid height’ – lower on the wall.
  5. A high-speed network connection is desirable, but not required.
  6. Wires/cables should be hidden from view.
  7. As each window costs approximately $5K – it should be placed in a location where theft is unlikely. The screen itself is behind a tough Plexiglas layer, so it should be fairly vandalism resistant.
These guidelines could be applied in the following types of places:


This type of site was the original impetus for this project. The desire for interesting ‘sister sites’ for interaction led to the other site types in this list.


Conceivably a nightclub on one side of the world could pair with a (daytime) museum on the other. The trick is to find a nightclub where excessive debauchery is not involved.

Shopping site

Many cities have shopping districts that are crowded late into the night. One of these shopping districts might make a good sister site to a daytime site.

Amusement park or theater

Any place with queues of people would provide a ready pool of interesting behaviors. A Sony Metreon in San Francisco could be paired with a similar queue in Japan.


By early October I intend to construct a few prototypes. If there is any interest, I can then construct real units in short order. These plans are based on two preconditions:

To be resolved

This is a grab bag of issues which must be addressed in a future version of this document.

Exact bill of materials

I need to select the exact hardware I'll use in the prototype. I'll also need to contract to have a woodworker make a suitable frame. Because I'm a competent geek – I think I can handle the rest of the work for a prototype.

Proposed educational sidebar

A prototype ‘how-it-works’ sidebar needs to be written.

Add drawing of the installed exhibit

This proposal would be more useful if it included pictures of the proposed exhibit.

Related ideas

I'd love to hear any feedback on this idea. I've tried to capture any ideas people have come up with:


A few people (i.e. Becky) have said – where is the keyboard? I'm not keen on having a keyboard in the initial design – because it turns art into chat room. People are supposed to just look/wave and smile at someone who is in a very different environment.
A keyboard could be added for other applications.

Translation buttons

Rather than a full keyboard – what about a few big buttons with words written beside them, like:
Ice Cream

Pressing one of these buttons would result in the suitably translated word appearing on both sides of the window. This serves a few functions:

A sidebar educational piece could teach why real machine translation is too hard for this exhibit. Hah!
I like this idea because it is technically easy.
This idea came from a cool “koosh ball poetry” thing someone told me about. People threw koosh balls at words on a wall – whichever word hit appeared as the next word in a not nonsense collaborative poem.

Deep Window web page

Something like this could be linked into a web page for the corresponding museums. People on the web could see what is currently happening at each of the windows. Only a small amount of additional software is involved, because it can use the code that is already running on the deep windows. It might even serve as a draw to the museum itself.

Sister Institutions

Many schools or museums have established ‘sister’ institutions where they trade staff or exhibits. Placing deep windows at these sites would create an interactive link where even visitors participate.
Perhaps this is also a good way to educate visitors about educational opportunities that are not far away. Wouldn't it be great if a SF MOMA visitor encountered a window to the SF Zoo? The zoo visitor would sees them in an unexpected “urban art-hungry primate in their natural environment” exhibit.

Windows at home

Perhaps affluent people might be interested in buying these devices for use in the home. A low complexity user interface could allow them to point at particular one-way or two-way cameras.
Perhaps yuppies buying these devices from museum gift shops could fund free installations in more public places?
This whole idea would need a lot of work – probably even a small group of permanent employees. I'm not sure if there would be adequate demand.

Automated art delivery/sharing

Related to the deep window at home idea: What about art appearing based on the Like Minds engine  ( Auto delivered art would occupy in the bulk of the screen, with small icons in the corner for you to specify how much you like the piece. You could also tap on the “new picture” icon. When this icon is selected your previous art ratings would be auto correlated with other people's choices to deliver a new picture.
Such a scheme would also work well in business lobbies.
This approach doesn't even need the hardware – it could do wonderfully as a desktop PC's screen saver. Perhaps some site like could use this approach to lure customers to actually buy original of the images they have enjoyed.
If you make something like this, please send me a note – I'd love to be a customer. Especially if you are at some place like Like Minds or Next Monet.

Random/sequenced windows

Any of these windows could periodically change to point to a new destination.

News window

Because this is just a PC at the core, it would be easy to have the art window show art most of the day, but default to showing the user's preferred news web site in the morning. However, beyond this I don't think it is best to get too far into the generic “web PC with camera” world. There is enough work here already.

Sponsorship/donation of large LCD screens

In an airport I just saw a really beautiful gas plasma display. They are large (44” diagonal) and bright even in sunlight. These devices are targeted at high end home audio/video systems – I wouldn't be surprised if the manufactures would be willing to donate the screens just in the hope that desirable customers see them.
The donation idea is appealing because currently these screens cost more than $10K each. Amazing - that is a lot of money just to watch When Animals Attack or other cruft. Hah!

Projector screens instead of flat panels

On the opposite price scale: Ceiling mounted projectors are relatively cheap and produce large images. In fact, the low-tech look and ability for people to wave and create shadows may make for the most appealing exhibit of all:
This flavor of the exhibit needs only a white wall with a hidden camera at the center. The projector creates a huge image of the other end of the window and makes it more tempting for people to jump around or touch the image/face on the other side. If some place like the Exploratorium was interested – this might be the most appealing package for them.

Simple art tools

Perhaps adding some ability to paint on the screen would make for a more interesting interaction. I'd like to test this idea with real users after a prototype has been constructed.

Web surfing

This somewhat relates to my comments about the keyboard. This box is basically a modified web browser/web cam – but I don't think there is a lot to gain by letting people also surf on this window.
This idea is more feasible if someone did some similar commercial device. Once again, if you are doing such a thing – please send me one.