The guys at Luxion just released their latest version of Keyshot, and I’m absolutely thrilled because displacement maps are one feature I was rather impatiently waiting for! Displacement (or depth) maps are an absolutely great way to create REAL textures that can absolutely make your renders POP! Let’s take a look at what this newfangled feature is and how to master it!
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BUMP AND DISPLACEMENT MAPS
Up until now, perhaps the biggest thing missing from Keyshot’s arsenal was its support for depth or displacement maps. You could only use bump maps in Keyshot to simulate textures, but that’s all. Now the difference between bump and displacement maps is visible in this image below.
The one on the left uses a bump map, and the other on the right has a displacement map. Bump maps only simulate texture, they don’t create it. They manipulate light and shadow to make it look like a surface has a texture, but in reality, that texture is an illusion. Displacement maps, on the other hand, actually create that texture. They physically manipulate 3D geometry to make the texture, and if you look at the silhouettes of the two below, you’ll get the gist. The one on the left is still a perfect circle. Even with the texture. The texture is an illusion. The one on the right, however, literally has those bumps that you see in the image above.
This ability to actually manipulate 3D surfaces is great for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it makes materials incredibly realistic. Concrete LOOKS like concrete. Tiled surfaces literally have 3D tiles in them. Gravel looks great too, because it’s actual gravel, not a flat surface with gravel texture. Secondly, it takes the pain out of actually modeling minor details. You can make folds in cloth by just dropping a displacement map. Crinkles on paper, grass on a lawn. You don’t need to physically model these minor details anymore. You can rely on a good displacement map you downloaded (or created!) to give you instant results.
HOW DISPLACEMENT MAPS WORK
It’s quite literally black and white. Displacement maps use grayscale to determine height, just like bump maps do (you can actually use those bump maps as displacement maps). In short, if you look at a bump map, notice that the parts that usually stick out (like the bumps on the ball in the image way up top) are the white bits, while the parts that are black recess downwards. The whiter the pixel gets, the more elevated/extruded it is, the blacker the pixel is, the further inward or downward it moves. In theory anything that’s exactly 50% gray stays untouched. Here’s a snippet of the map along with the result alongside.
Most bump maps can be used as displacement maps. Make sure you have maps that are of a high resolution because a pixelated image will result in a pixelated surface, and that isn’t good. Conversely, if you’ve got details that are way too sharp, just carry the map image to photoshop and gently blur the parts you want softened. Blurring a sharp edge that’s black on one side and white on another will cause the colors to intermingle and form the grays in between. As a result, you’ll get softer edges with bevels/fillets without having even done anything!
You can find displacement maps online (the good ones come at a price) or you can even MAKE your own bump maps. Using the black-to-white principle, you can create maps of common textures like woven carpet in a software like Photoshop or Illustrator and just export the maps to hi-resolution images. Go ahead and experiment with the portrait-mode on your smartphone camera too. It has the ability to capture a decent amount of depth, and you can use websites like www.depthy.me to extract the displacement map from your image (depthy.me will give you an inverted version of the displacement map, so make sure you take it to PhotoShop and invert the colors to get the real map). You can see two images below of a ‘portrait-mode’ photo and the displacement map placed alongside. You won’t get incredibly crisp displacement maps with your phone, but using your phone’s portrait mode is a pretty nifty and handy way of learning about new textures, patterns, and shapes, and how they’re recreated in grayscale to allow computers to see depth.
ADDING DISPLACEMENT MAPS IN KEYSHOT 8
Just to fuel my curiosity, I carried that avocado displacement map and image file to keyshot to see what I got and boy! You notice a few things off the bat. The map is far from accurate, but here’s why. A. You’re using a pretty basic piece of 3D imaging which mainly uses algorithms to calculate depth. And B. This ‘displacement’ map is actually a blur map. It doesn’t calculate depth. It calculates what’s in the foreground and what’s in the background, and uses that data to create DoF, or depth of field. (That’s why the displacement map is inverted, because the algorithm blurs the white and doesn’t touch the black. It’s essentially the same principle but a different operation.)
So let’s look at Keyshot’s Displacement Map feature in depth (hehehe, get it?) The displacement, or the geometry, forms just one part of the entire material… which is why we’re looking at Keyshot’s material graph (right-click, edit material graph), which deconstructs everything for us to better understand and build materials. Keyshot separates materials into Surface and Geometry. Surface allows you to create materials, finishes, textures, and Geometry allows you to edit or tinker with the third dimension of the model itself. In the Surface section, you get to decide whether your material is plastic, or metal, or concrete, etc. You can add other aspects like color, roughness, graphical patterns to this. The Geometry section is where things get interesting. There are basically only two components to using a displacement map. One is your map… an image file. And the second is a displacement block, which tells Keyshot you want to use the map as a displacement map.
Connect the map to the block, and the block to the geometry tab, and you’re good to go. The geometry doesn’t change right away (because it’s processor-intensive), which is why you need to “execute” the map. First off, double click on the image map block and make sure you’ve got the size, scale, placement right. You can press the ‘C’ key to preview your map on your model and press it again to hide the map. Once you’re satisfied with how the map is laid out, double click on the displacement block and hit execute. Certain things happen. The map gets executed, and you get a first impression of how your geometry changes. In order to tweak the end-result, try changing the displacement parameters.
Displacement Height: Changes how high or low the highest and lowest points of your displacement map are. For something like large pebbles, you’d have a larger height. For something like gravel, the height would be negligible.
Offset: Determines whether your displacement map pushes stuff outward or inward. Grass sprouts out of a surface, but holes in Swiss cheese go inside a surface. You’ll need to tell the software which direction to process the map in.
Resolution: The lower the resolution amount, the clearer the pixels on the map are. The resolution value basically tells Keyshot how small you want the smallest detail to be. A large value creates lesser detail, a smaller value makes details more intricate.
Max Triangles: This tells the software how many pixels (or triangles) to allow your map to have. So for maps with lots of details (individual grains of gravel), you’ll need more triangles. For something fairly simple like a tiled surface, a low triangle count works just fine!
MAKING TEXTURES MORE REALISTIC USING DISPLACEMENT MAPS
Okay, at just over a thousand words, I’ll stop talking! Displacement maps are a great way to create geometry without creating it. If you’ve got bump maps lying around, try using them with the displacement block to get some stunning results! You can even go further to create wrinkles on skin, crumpled patterns on paper, or actual threads in a loosely woven material. I recommend checking out Poliigon for their incredible database of materials and textures. Just remember one thing. Keyshot is already rendering all your scenes in real-time. Telling it to start building 3D surfaces basically is going to require more resources. Very detailed or large depth maps may take more time to load as well as render, so depending on your needs, and how powerful your machine is, go ahead and give displacement maps a shot! They’ll “grow” on you!
Image Credits: Poliigon
KEYSHOT 8: POWERFUL RENDERING MADE EASY
Keyshot isn’t an unheard of name in the industry. Most design companies like Motorola, Microsoft, Oakley, Skullcandy, Nissan, Chrysler and DeWalt regularly use Keyshot, and nearly half of the designers we asked used Keyshot for their renderings. Its biggest achievement is making renders as simple as dragging and dropping materials, textures, environments. For a beginner, Keyshot is a great way to get the job done, and for a power user, Keyshot retains all the tools to make absolutely stunning visualizations. The rendering software released its 8th version at the beginning of this year, including a massive variety of easy-to-use features, from intersecting/cutaway materials, to the introduction of fog/smoke and volumetric lighting, to being able to add bubbles/flakes in solid materials, and perhaps the biggest update yet, support for displacement/depth maps!
I read a pretty scary statistic online, which outlines that the average person stares at their smartphone screen for a minimum of 3 hours a day. In fact, that number went from 0.3 hours to 3.3 hours between 2008 and 2017. Today, it’s anywhere between 4-6 hours, which is anywhere around 30% of the time we spend awake. That’s 30% of our waking life spent staring at pixels. Mike Elgan points out that if we spent that time reading books, we could literally read upward of 200 books PER YEAR.
So how exactly do we break this addiction to smartphones? A great way to go about things is buy what they call a ‘dumbphone’. Dumbphones, or the phones we were used to from 15+ years ago, used to be pretty great. People would actually call each other up and talk rather than send texts, emojis, and ephemeral selfies. Fake news was at an all-time low. Phones were cheaper too, back then… and most importantly, a phone’s battery lasted anywhere from a week to a fortnight. Dumbphones today base themselves on the same principle. Remove the app store and internet connectivity, and you’ve got yourself a phone that isn’t really capable of spying on you, and will prompt you to spend less time staring at pictures and videos of superficial lifestyles on social media, and more time doing things of value… like reading those 200 books each year.
We look at 10 beautiful products that solve our screen-addiction, and help us unplug from the toxicity of superficial social-network-based lives. These designs help us achieve what we need, with exactly the amount of resources needed to be productive, healthy, and happy.
01. Blloc Minimal Smartphone
Let’s start simple with the Blloc Smartphone. For people who want (or need) to stay connected to social media (like me for instance, given that 90% of my job revolves around being informed and connected), Blloc has a pretty clever trick up its sleeve. It redesigns the entire OS to be completely black and white, and creates a block-based home screen that gives you all your snippets directly in the menu, rather than needing you to open each app. This, along with the phone’s grayscale OS does WONDERS for your battery life, and leaves you slightly less addicted to your phone’s flashy, colorful OLED screen. Craving some color? Blloc even allows you to briefly view your content in color, just by placing your finger on top of the fingerprint sensor at the back! A great, minimal-compromise option for battling screen addiction!
02. Kyocera KY-O1L
Although the name isn’t particularly catchy, Kyocera’s KY-O1L is a lot like the Blloc, but takes the dumbphone ethos more seriously. A recipient of the Japanese Good Design Award, and also touted as the world’s thinnest phone, the KY-O1L is literally the size of a credit card, and just a couple of millimeters thicker. Designed for the white-collar workers who still rely on business cards, the KY-O1L fits right into cardholders, allowing you to have a phone along with your cards that you can A. carry around with you, and B. Use to instantly make calls, save contacts, and access the web for work-related reasons. The phone does pack an LTE connection, but doesn’t have an app-store. All internet-related work is done via Kyocera’s browser, which not only optimizes webpages to keep them simple, but also displays them to you in black-and-white, an experience that may take getting used to, but will surely provide function without the mindless addiction. The ideal phone for the kind of person who believes in hustling, keeping technology in check while being able to communicate with the world, and most importantly, safeguarding their privacy with technology that doesn’t use apps or cameras to spy incessantly on them. It doesn’t sound that bad when you say it that way, does it?
03. Punkt MP02
I wouldn’t go as far as to call the Punkt MP02 a ‘dumbphone’ because it isn’t. The phone comes with 4G LTE capabilities, but in almost every regard, it’s the absolute antithesis of your conventional, bezel-less, dual-camera, slick-and-shiny, addictive smartphone. It comes with all the features needed in a communication device. The ability to call, text, and receive calls and messages from others. It also comes with an absolutely finger-loving tactile keyboard that you’ll be able to operate with muscle-memory after a month, letting you text without even looking at your screen. The phone comes with an eye-friendly black-and-white screen, and does boast of 4G LTE, but not in the way you think. The 4G LTE feature on the MP02 works as a hotspot, allowing you to use your laptop or tablet to browse the web… only when needed. This slight bit of friction (when it comes to accessing web-services) means you’ll spend less time on the internet, and more time doing things of consequence.
04. U18 Phone
This is the U18. It’s a bare-basics phone designed for parents to give to under-eighteen-year-olds. It’s a phone that your child will probably not like, but then again, teenagers often don’t know what’s good for them, right? It allows children to make, answer, and reject calls, add and remove callers, and call your dad, mom, or set up a group call for parents/siblings. It even has a WeChat button that’s probably limited to reading texts, and a voice-command button that lets you tell the phone who you want to call.
Flip the phone over and it has a camera for video calls (there’s also a secondary front facing camera), and even a panic button for sending SOS signals to your emergency contacts. Designed to be the perfect first-phone for youngsters, the U18 supplies them with all the functions needed to stay connected with the people who truly matter, and strips away all functions that could get children hopelessly addicted to phones and social media, and additionally even protect their privacy by keeping them away from apps that spy on them or gather their precious data.
05. Halcyon ‘Reality’ Phone
The Halcyon does one very crucial thing right. A person’s only motivation to leave a smartphone either stems from A. realization and frustration with the addiction, or B. being presented with a better alternative. The Halcyon concept phone was birthed keeping both those motivations in mind. It boasts of a gorgeous, flexible design that rivals most smartphones in aesthetic beauty.
Made in a clam-shell format with basic controls and two screens (one on the front-face and one on the inside), the phone serves as a simple connection tool, allowing for phone calls and text messages only. The black and white UI keeps it simple too, discreetly notifying you when you have a call or a text, and otherwise constantly reminding you to stay in sync with the world around you with its slogan “reality awaits”.
06. Offline Phone
A winner of the 2018 Red Dot Design Concept Award, the Offline phone is your regular candybar dumbphone, but with a beautiful minimal aesthetic that actually makes you want to adopt it. Composed of just a standard numeric keypad and a rather eye-catching opaque screen, its ultra-minimalist, stark aesthetic is complimentary of this goal. It’s seemingly simple, but does allow the user brief periods of internet access so that they are always mindful of how they spend their time online. No camera, no superfluous applications… just back to basics so you can live in the real world!
07. Yeezy Phone
I get the hilarity of naming a dumbphone after Kanye West, but this isn’t about dissing the great rapper (with a not-so-great reputation on Twitter). This stripped-down smartphone ditches the display entirely for a matrix of miniature lights (you can see them up close here) that form a touch sensitive LED array (a reference to the recent stage designs of John McGuire, featured as part of Kanye West’s Saint Pablo Tour). The phone comes with a reinvented OS too, allowing you to do just the important stuff. Make and take phone calls. Now if only Yeezy did the same too!
08. The Battery-less Phone
This right here is peak dumbphone, but it showcases a technology that’s nothing short of marvelous. The Battery-less phone, although it exists only in prototype and can’t really be bought, runs without ever needing to be charged. Stripped of all its functions, except calling, the battery free phone actually uses and needs minimal amounts of energy which it harnesses via light around it, and radio waves that linger in the air. You can make calls via the capacitive number pad, and it uses Skype to communicate with other phones. However, whenever you want to use the microphone, you need to hold a mic button down to relay your voice (much like a walkie talkie). The phone is just a stripped down grouping of circuit boards and wires for the time-being, but we can expect a fully made mobile phone too quite soon! Marvelous, eh? You can check out the phone in action here.
09. Substitute Phone
Maybe the answer isn’t a dumbphone. Maybe it’s a fidget toy that channels your addiction/distraction into something less intense. That’s what the Substitute Phone is. The designer put it best: you’re on the metro and grabbing at your phone at the first sight of seeing someone else receive a message. It’s a bizarre and unhealthy inclination feeding our attention deficit and we’re all guilty of it!
Designed with this in mind, the shape of the Substitute Phone replicates an average smartphone, however, its functions are reduced to the movements we make hundreds of times on a daily basis. Stone beads are incorporated in the body and let you scroll, zoom and swipe so to speak. No digital functions – just the simple, familiar motions. It’s the perfect, therapeutic approach to coping with smartphone withdrawal.
10. Phone Detox Book
I mean, if you’re going to ditch a screen to read a book, maybe start with the Phone Detox? A palm-friendly, phone-sized book that contains insights, ideas, and meditations that help you get over your heavy dependency on your phone, social media, and validation addictions. The book covers relevant topics like Addiction, Monasticism, Poetry, Nature, Dating, Utopia, and even Death. Its aim being to allow us to take a step back, breathe, and contemplate a little, rather than simply consuming content the internet keeps throwing at you.
The makers of the book say that the “Phone Detox knows we love our phones and would never want us to give them up, but it is also gently aware that these delightful gadgets bear a hidden cost. This flip book is a tool that aims to bring a little sanity to our closest, most intense and possibly most danger-laden technological relationship.”
That’s right. Put that screen down and enjoy life and its beautiful imperfections!
Sam Gwilt started his fledgling YouTube channel to capture his journey as a designer. Over time, that YouTube channel helped build a community that, along with Sam, ‘does design’. Sam’s channel ‘Sam Does Design’ hosts a variety of videos, from sketching and rendering tutorials, to Q&A’s to even portfolio reviews, and has helped Sam build a strong audience/community of designers and design students. Sam recently designed a lamp, titled The Weight, for Gantri, an online studio that partners with designers to create modern-day lighting designs exclusively using 3D printing. The Weight plays on the word ‘light’ and creates a visual contrast by being the opposite… heavy. Designed to look like an orb that weighs down on a platform, causing it to visually deform, The Weight is entirely 3D printed (and is actually quite lightweight). Its soft design (and soft lighting) instantly adds a touch of playfulness to a room while also lighting the space up with a soft glow.
We got a chance to sit down with Sam and talk to him about The Weight, the design process behind it, his YouTube channel, and got him to share some portfolio tips with us. We even asked him about the can of San Pellegrino that went viral on his Instagram page!
Yanko Design: Hi Sam! Tell us about yourself and how you came to ‘do design’
Sam Gwilt: “Hey I’m Sam and I do design!” I’ve been interested in design for as long as I can remember. One side of my family are engineers, the other side artists, so I’ve always had a deep appreciation for both disciplines. Luckily for me, there was a technology college close to my childhood home. That was where my first lessons in design were taught, which laid the foundations for my career without me even knowing.
I studied industrial design at Brunel University London where, alongside my studies, I gained two years of industry experience. That was how I managed to get my foot in the door and secured my current job at Precipice Design. I also worked with Made in Brunel as a Social Media Manager. I was part of the student-led programme that connects students with industry and organises the design events throughout the year. I used the skills I learned there to help run Sam Does Design, which in turn helps to teach others.
YD: You recently designed a lamp in partnership with Gantri. Do tell us more about the ‘Weight Lamp’.
SG: Weight is an ambient light with a 360-degree glow. It was designed specifically for 3D printing and is made from a corn-based polymer. I wanted to play with the concept of weight and mass; how heavy could I make light seem? The 3D printing process means that plastic becomes molten as the product is made, and I wanted to capture that aspect of the process. The intention was to make the final form seem soft and malleable. The sphere appears to have fallen onto the base and has deformed the shape, where it now seems suspended in time.
YD: How did this collaboration with Gantri come about?
SG: I posted a separate concept design to my Instagram page, and I saw a comment that said: “this looks like a design for Gantri”. That was the first time I’d heard about them, so I checked out their website and was really impressed by their process and existing designs, and eager to find out if there was a way I could work with them. I reached out to see if they were looking for new designers and the stars must have aligned because the timing was perfect. After chatting with the team at Gantri, I began working on the concept about a month later.
YD: So, what was the design brief? And how long did it take to go from idea to final product?
SG: The brief was refreshingly open to interpretation. Gantri has an amazing in-house design and engineering team but the big-picture concept and specific scenario were up to me to define. I presented three completely different concept routes that I thought could be interesting, and we decided to develop the strongest one based on how easy it was for potential customers to understand the concept at first glance. It was important for the product to be understood without needing to be explained with any sales copy. I had ideas that explored aspects other than weight but still kept surface and material exploration as a theme, and I hope to revisit those designs in the future. I’d love to work with Gantri again: their streamlined design process and fast prototype turnaround meant that from concept to sale took around three months.
YD: The Weight lamp is designed specifically for 3D printing. How different is that from designing for injection or blow molding?
SG: No draft angles! The geometric design lends itself to 3D printing as nothing needs to be de-moulded. That meant that all sides could be geometrically perfect. The flip side is not being able to print past 45 degrees due to printer constraints, but some clever engineering and internal structures meant that the cylinder base prints perfectly every time. Another benefit was working on the whole product without the need for split lines or multiple parts. It’s a sad moment when a split line needs to interrupt a nice clean surface due to pesky manufacturing constraints. Creating the part for 3D printing meant that wasn’t an issue.
YD: If you had to list a couple of design references for the Weight, what would they be?
SG: I loved the idea of mixing genres of design using technology as an enabler. I wanted Weight to be minimal and contemporary but fun and whimsical. The base and sphere reflect many different styles and also pay homage to past designs: the Memphis Bay lamp and Wilhelm Wagenfeld’s Bauhaus Lamp to name a couple.
YD: Any designers you particularly look up to?
SG: I got my first taste of lighting design at Paul Cocksedge Studio during my time at university. I helped develop the designs and travelled the world building the installations. The hours were long and intensive, but I’m grateful for the inspiration and experience. Coming from a particularly engineering-based university, it was freeing to be immersed in an environment where nothing had been tried and tested before. We were the first and only team ever to produce the manufacturing methods for Paul’s pieces.
There are other designers that I’ve had the pleasure of working with both in the industry and at university that inspire me greatly. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever met a creative that doesn’t inspire me in one way or another.
YD: Tell us a little bit about Sam Does Design. Do you ever think about pursuing it full time?
SG: I love that Sam Does Design as a channel is giving back to the community that I’ve learned so much from. I originally started the page to post daily sketches and asked for constructive feedback from the wider design circle. Eventually, I began to notice that people were asking me how I achieved certain things within the world of design, and I began to make the switch to share the knowledge I’d gained. It’s still funny to me that the tiny decision to make an Instagram when I was bored three years ago is having such an effect on my life now. If I thought that it would go anywhere as a career, I would have chosen a better name!
In terms of going full time, I’m so happy at my current day job as a consultant at Precipice. I’ve worked on a variety of amazing projects alongside a multidisciplinary team. Being surrounded by such talented people has helped me grow as a person and designer.
YD: You recently began doing portfolio reviews. Could you give our readers a few quick pointers?
SG: Quick tips: Tell a story. Your portfolio isn’t a siloed list of your skills, it’s an advert for your thought process. Only show your best work. Only show the work relevant to the job you’re applying for. Each portfolio should be tailored to the company. Show work you love doing along with work you want to do more of. Sell your project to me with in-context hero images; I won’t read anything you put in a paragraph.
YD: Any upcoming projects you’d like to talk about? What’s cooking!?
SG: I’m working on some amazing projects at Precipice that I’m unfortunately not allowed to talk about. The Sam Does Design projects coming up include multidisciplinary collaborations across the design world, branching out from industrial and product design. I’m hoping to share a more in-depth process through various collaborations and formats. I’m very excited about how one, in particular, is panning out. Watch this space! “Don’t forget to like, comment, subscribe, hit the bell button and everything else that YouTube asks you to do!”
YD: Lastly, what ever happened to that can of San Pellegrino?! (Sam managed to capture a stray can of San Pellegrino Limon and turn it viral on his Instagram page. I’m surprised the can doesn’t have its own Instagram profile yet.)
SG: The San Pel can that was stuck above the glass elevator for 6 months lives on in our thoughts! A lucky maintenance worker drank it and I caught them on my Instagram Stories. I honestly still think about it every time I have a can, which is more often than I’d like to admit.
Visit Sam Gwilt’s Website or his YouTube Channel for his work/vlogs. Click Here to visit Gantri’s Webstore to buy The Weight.
The IP rating is pretty much a standard part of every modern-day gadget’s feature list. It’s also the detail that one usually skims through to get to more important details like battery life, internal memory, warranty period, etc. We’ve thrown around IP ratings too, without really delving into the details much, so this article will help clear any doubts you may have regarding your gadget, how waterproof it is (or if it is even waterproof), and will give you the low-down on how the IP rating is just a standard, and you maybe shouldn’t throw your phone into the swimming pool just because your manufacturer said it’s water-resistant.
A BRIEF LOOK AT THE IP (INTERNATIONAL PROTECTION) RATING
The IP is one of many standards adopted to indicate how physically secure a product is. Not to be confused with the IP which stands for intellectual property, the International Protection (or even sometimes referred to as Ingress Protection) Rating refers to how protected a device is against solids and liquids. It’s found usually everywhere, from sockets to street-lamps, and helps designers, engineers, technicians, and others understand whether A. a product is immune to tampering, B. immune to dirt and dust, C. resistant to small amounts of water, or D. resistant to large amounts of water, or water under extremely high pressure/temperature. The IP ratings are broken up into two units. One unit is reserved for solid-matter-ingress, while the other is indicative of resistance to water ingress. Let’s ‘dive’ in!
SOLID INGRESS RATING
If you’ve ever taken a look at a phone’s IP rating, especially in the recent future, you’ll notice that it often reads as IP67, or IP68. There’s a general tendency to say “IP sixty-eight”, but it’s worth noting that those two numbers are two completely different ratings (and the right way of saying it is “IP six-eight”, in case you’d like to correct your geek friend the next time). The first number, i.e. six, forms the first rating, indicating a product’s resistance to solid matter. The chart for measuring IP ratings for solid ingress starts at 0, or basically no protection (something you could possibly shove a wrench or your hand into), and ends at 6, which is the international standard for dust-proof, or completely protected against dust. It’s safe to say that the latest phones have a rating of 6 on the solid-ingress scale, which means their insides are impervious to sand, dust, or any particulate matter (even the charging port or the earpiece is secured)… but if you’ve just bought yourself an Oppo Find X, or a phone with a sliding selfie camera (like the rumored OnePlus 7, there’s a heavy chance of it not being dust-proof, given the introduction of moving parts and complex mechanisms.
However, I’d take advice from YouTuber JerryRigEverything who said that even though phones are tested to be dust-proof, they aren’t entirely dust-proof. Earpieces or speakers are usually made of moderately powerful magnets which may attract tiny metal particles that can, over time, damage your phone. All in all, a casual drop at the beach won’t harm your phone, but do think twice before docking your phone in a hole made in the sand.
WATER INGRESS RATING
The second digit in the IP rating stands for resistance to water. The chart’s slightly longer in this one, going from 0 (which basically means it has absolutely no protection against water) to a stunning 9K, which allows products with the rating to withstand high-temperature water-jets. Needless to say, the phone in your pocket isn’t designed to ever witness a scenario where it would be bombarded by high-temperature water jets, so the 9K rating is usually reserved for products that need that level of protection. Phones usually fall within the 7-8 rating, which basically states that it’s been tested for immersion up to or beyond 1 meter of water.
Probably the biggest takeaway from this rating is the fact that it’s always referred to as a water rating. Tests for the liquid ingress rating are always done with freshwater, and the rating applies to tests with water that isn’t contaminated or contains solvents in it. The liquid ingress rating isn’t limited to items like beverages, chlorinated water, or even salty seawater. These liquids have the ability to corrode any sort of metal over time, and your smartphone isn’t any different. Salt and electronics are an exceptionally bad combination, so regardless of your IP rating, it’s best if you didn’t carry your phone into the ocean… or at least used a water-proof casing.
The liquid IP rating isn’t infallible in that regard. Note that even though gadgets may come with IP ratings, manufacturers may specifically mention that water damage isn’t covered under a warranty, because the liquid IP rating is, for the lack of a better term, ‘murky’. For starters, phones (or other gadgets) aren’t completely water-resistant. With prolonged use, accidental drops, or usage in fluctuating temperatures, a phone’s ability to withstand liquid ingress often gets compromised. In fact, most smartphones also make it a point to mention that their phones can stay underwater for a specific time frame (10 minutes or so). This isn’t a feature as much as it’s a precautionary measure, for if you accidentally drop your phone into the pool (or let’s face it, the toilet), and it takes you time to retrieve your gadget. Smartphones are often equipped with water-sensitive stickers on the inside too, which will let technicians or manufacturers know if your phone’s been exposed to water, so even though your phone does come with an IP68 rating, it’s best if you didn’t jump into the pool with it (as most YouTube reviewers will agree).
WHAT’S THE ‘X’ ABOUT?
If you happen to own a gadget with a rating that reads IPX7 or IPX8, don’t panic! The X basically means the manufacturers haven’t performed the solid-ingress rating because they didn’t deem it necessary. Besides, for a lot of products, if the device is protected against liquids, there’s a fair chance it’s protected against solids too. Take the Apple Watch with its IPX7 rating. It essentially means the watch was rigorously tested for water-resistance, given that it’s going to come in contact with tap-water, shower-water, sweat, or pool-water a bunch of times every day. The Watch’s rating makers perfect sense because its enclosed, waterproof design means it doesn’t need to worry about dust as much… or maybe the fact that dust-ingress, if any, is covered under warranty, if it does happen to damage the Watch. A closer look at the warranty information would probably help.
WAIT, MY PRODUCT DOESN’T HAVE AN IP RATING
The IP Rating is an internationally accepted standard, but it isn’t a mandatory one. Most countries have their own standards that they adhere to for testing purposes, and the only reason they haven’t provided an IP rating is because they haven’t performed the tests according to the IP Standard. Take the GoPro’s waterproof case for instance, a product that was literally designed to hermetically protect the GoPro from contact with water. The case doesn’t particularly come with an IP rating, but needless to say, it does a pretty remarkable job of protecting the camera from water.
ULTIMATELY, IT’S JUST ANOTHER RATING
It’s important to know that the IP rating isn’t a guarantee. It’s just a test, like any other durability test, that indicates whether a gadget can withstand dust or liquid immersion. Phones with IP68 waterproof ratings have still been known to have problems after being dunked into a pool, and smartphone manufacturers will often make it a point to mention if their gadgets are covered under the warranty in case of liquid damage. Just like even though there’s no guarantee that your phone won’t shatter if you put a screen-protector on it, there’s no particular guarantee that it won’t get ruined if it comes in contact with water. Your phone, watch, tablet, earpiece’s ability to withstand water or dust depends on a lot of things. Usage, temperature, pressure, and ultimately even build quality (which could just be shoddy if you’re unlucky). Knowing the IP rating of your device is great, probably because you’ll know whether you need to be extra cautious or not… but knowing that electronics and dust, dirt, oil, or water are not friends is probably the greatest piece of wisdom to have!
It’s only natural that the world’s first fully autonomous self-driving bus would come out of Finland. Finland, believe it or not, is often considered to be the ‘Silicon Country’ that gave the world Nokia and pretty much set the very blueprint for mobile communications. Nokia was founded in Finland, and for over two grand decades before Apple launched the iPhone, Nokia was the standard to beat. In fact, there’s a high likelihood that your first phone was a Nokia (I know mine was). Post-2010 when Nokia saw a slowdown, after which it was acquired and dissolved by Microsoft, these engineers and designers moved onto bigger and better things. The dissolution of Nokia saw the rise of companies like Rovio (Angry Birds), SuperCell (Clash of Clans), and even Sensible 4, the company that designed the software behind Gacha, the world’s first self-driving bus that was built to operate under any weather conditions.
Gacha was created in collaboration with MUJI, which provided the design language for the bus. Courtesy a partnership facilitated by Helsinki Business Hub (which promotes collaboration between international agencies and Finnish talent) MUJI, headed by Naoto Fukasawa, got in touch with Sensible 4, the brains behind the self-driving software. Since as early as the 90s, Sensible 4 has been working on self-driving tech. In fact, they even tested a functioning self-driving Jeep in 1993, but the computers inside it were so big, there was no place for humans to sit! The collaboration came about as Sensible 4 began plotting ways to make public transport more autonomous and frictionless. The idea for a 10-person bus that could navigate anywhere in any weather was born and MUJI immediately jumped on board to help bring the vision to life!
The name Gacha comes from a Japanese toy figurine often found in shops and malls across Japan. These Gachas would be inside a massive toy-dispensing gumball machine and once you put the money in and pressed a button, the toy would come tumbling out, encased in an almost spherical container. This container, which housed a human toy inside it, became MUJI’s inspiration for the Gacha, and the name stuck around too.
The Gacha’s dual-colored design is inspired by the toy container’s two-piece construction too. It features a soft, filleted design that immediately appears friendly and inviting, unlike the rigid design of buses, or the aerodynamic design of trains. The soft form helps break barriers by not creating a strictly defined wall or a ceiling. The curved, almost womb-like form immediately allows it to be perceived as friendly on the outside as well as the inside… a feature that’s very important, says Naoto Fukasawa, considering how daunting the prospect of a self-driving vehicle could be. The size of the vehicle is perfect too, allowing 10 people to be seated and an additional 4 more people to stand inside. The seating design is conducive to friendly conversation. Unlike most buses that have seats facing in one direction or individually designed seats arranged linearly, the Gacha has a running bench from left to right. It takes inspiration from the seating of saunas, a Finnish heritage and tradition, encouraging people to sit in groups.
Its size is crucial too, according to Sensible 4’s CEO Harri Santamala. The Gacha’s small size (coupled with its top speed of 40mph) is perfect for small shuttle activities. The bus is safe by virtue of its speed, and if and when demand for the Gacha increases, municipalities can simply deploy more vehicles on the road, rather than making larger vehicles that are more accommodating.
Lastly, the Gacha’s design is bilaterally symmetrical as a stroke of complete genius. With a design that doesn’t have a front or back, Naoto says that the Gacha can easily work in left-hand and right-hand driving countries. The headlamps and taillamps are integrated into a running LED strip around the waist of the car, and a simple flip within the software can allow the headlamps and taillamps to switch direction, allowing the bus to run easily on any side of the road without needing expensive hardware/build changes. The complete absence of a drivers cockpit or steering wheel means the insides are completely bilaterally symmetrical too, from the benches down to the in-bus displays.
Sensible 4 has been working on autonomous driving tech for virtually 30 years. With the Gacha, the company finally sees self-driving vehicles actually making their way to roads around them. How is Gacha different from other self-driving vehicles around the world? It’s the first self-driving vehicle designed to work in practically any weather condition.
Finland, aside from fostering an incredibly talented tech community (and also being one of the only two countries in the world to already have legislation in place for self-driving automobiles) also provides the perfect testing ground for self-driving cars, given its weather diversity. Far away from the sunny plains of San Francisco, Finland proves to be a complete obstacle course for the Gacha. It sees snow, rain, sun, hail, fog, and the roads are often challenging to navigate through, given that they could be snowed in, frozen and icy, or just plain uneven in suburban parts of the country. Sensible 4 has worked long and hard to develop a vehicle that can not only sense roads and obstacles, but even perform its tasks in inclement weather. The Gacha, equipped with a wide variety of sensors, cameras, and mapping systems, can travel through dense fog, heavy snow, and even torrential rain without breaking a sweat. It can navigate through roads using an onboard GPS and a map, sense traffic and signs/signals to travel in accordance with the law, stopping at red lights, zebra crossings, or even when there’s an obstacle in its path. In the snow, the Gacha knows exactly where speed breakers are, using a combination of radar, lidar, and sonar, and its intelligent AI can even map out alternate routes if roads are closed, unsafe, or even crowded.
A look at the way Gacha captures and processes its surroundings
The Gacha, ultimately, was designed to be a shuttle bus. Think about an Uber Pool for more than 4 people. It can operate within the city as well as to suburbs, picking up people who summon it and planning out its routes based on demand, using Sensible 4’s advanced algorithms. Rather than having a fixed route like a public bus, the Gacha can make diversions to pick up people who need to go to certain destinations, and with its 100km range and 6-hour battery life, can complete multiple runs before retiring to a nearby charging station for a quick recharge.
THE TEST RIDE
As a part of an exclusive team that got to view the unveiling of the Gacha, Yanko Design was given a rare opportunity to be one of the first to sit inside and ride the Gacha. The bus was unveiled on the 8th of March to the public of Helsinki, with a flag off from the deputy mayor of the city. It had snowed the day before, and as a result, the roads were slushy and slippery, and I remember everyone complaining about how miserable the weather was, while the Gacha team had quite the opposite reaction! They were more than happy to demonstrate the self-driving bus in undesirable weather and driving conditions. Unveiled at Helsinki’s newly built central library, the Oodi, the Gacha was made to drive within a cordoned off area for the public, including the press.
Stepping into the Gacha, I instantly remembered registering two reactions. My mind knew exactly what a big deal this was, to be sitting inside a vehicle that was operating on its own, with absolutely no instructions or controls from a present human… but at the same time, it felt like an incredibly familiar experience. You see, we’re used to something quite similar with a subway or a train. You don’t necessarily see the driver of the train you sit in. You just enter the compartment and stand there aimlessly knowing that the vehicle will complete its journey with you inside it, and your only job is to get off at your stop. That’s what the Gacha felt like too, and it’s an incredible win for the industry because it immediately helps remove any fear the public may have with self-driving cars. Practically the size of a large cable car, the Gacha moved around on its own as I, along with a group of journalists, sat inside, trying to register exactly what a big deal this was. There was immediately a sense of faith in the bus, and I doubt a car would have the exact same feeling because people are used to driving their own cars, but with a bus, you’re usually always a passenger.
The Gacha knew exactly where to stop, when to and for how long to open its sliding doors, and when to embark. It completed a circular journey around an empty plot outside the Oodi library, and plotted the exact same path without the presence of lanes, lines, or even a roadway. It stopped when a pedestrian happened to come close to it, and began immediately once the coast was clear. The LED strip around the Gacha did a remarkable job of letting people know exactly when it was going to stop, when it was waiting for boarding, and when it was going to depart. In every which way, the Gacha did exactly what it promised to do, with the intuition of a human driver, knowing exactly where and when to proceed.
The Gacha may be able to get from point A to B on its own, but it still has a lot of obstacles to cross. For starters, Sensible 4 is sending the bus (its only prototype as of now) to the northern laplands of Finland to operate under snowy conditions. The team will gather all the necessary data to make the Gacha work better and with lesser friction, no matter the weather. There’s also a major conversation around the presence of self-driving automobiles with regards to the dangers of the technology. The immediate fear is the loss of jobs, but in any advancing society, old jobs die to give birth to new ones. The deputy mayor of Helsinki believes that the Gacha will create new jobs with it. The second most important fear is the protocol in an undesirable situation like an accident or a calamity. While the Gacha is heavily optimized and speed-limited to avoid any accidents, it still remains to be determined what the bus will do in the event of one. Unlike humans who may flee a scene, the Gacha will have to be much more accountable and responsible, while also being responsible for the people within it. Given the Gacha’s 2021 debut date, we may finally get a clearer picture of the safety protocols of self-driving vehicles.
While the Gacha goes on its year-long test run in the city of Espoo, Sensible 4 is tasked with finding a hardware/manufacturing partner for the vehicle. With the design and technology in place, the company hopes to have governments of cities and municipalities invite it to become a part of the public transit system. The Gacha also has a lot of opportunities outside public transport. With the ability to work as a logistics vehicle, or even moving retail outlet like a grocery, or perhaps a MUJI shop (!) on wheels, the Gacha can don many hats, serving not just local governments and municipalities, but even corporations. Ultimately, the fact that the Gacha has the ability to travel in any sort of weather without the need of a driver, really allows the vehicle to seamlessly integrate into a variety of countries, cultures, societies, campuses, and even businesses. Designed to simply be a vehicle that will reliably get from point A to point B without any glitch, problem, or fuss, the Gacha has a universal outlook and appeal that seems lightyears ahead of its time!