Cesar TorresPersonal website: http://www.cearto.com/
Lab website: http://hybridatelier.uta.edu
Cesar Torres, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the CSE Department with a courtesy appointment in the Art + Art History Department. He is an interdisciplinary interactive systems and design researcher working to re-imagine, invent, and support what creativity and making will look like 20 years from now. His mission is to move beyond the screen and mouse to instead leverage the wider gamut of physical, cognitive, and social capabilities of the human body and to diversify the creative sites, surfaces, and situations in which we encounter computation. His research interests within this space focus on Human-Computer Interaction, Design, Physical Computing, Digital Fabrication, and Augmented Environments.
At the center of his research and creative practice, Dr. Torres develops interactive systems that allow practitioners nuanced control of digital, physical, smart, or new materials aimed at broadening participation in new creative technologies. These systems and their resulting artifacts have been well recognized by the ACM SIGCHI community with multiple Best Paper Awards as well as by industry leaders including Adobe Systems and Microsoft Research.
Figure 1: ProxyPrint (2016) is a design tool for creating custom jigs for wire-wrapping, a popular metalworking jewelry practice. The tool converts computational geometries into design-specific 3D-printed tools that assist a practitioner in bending wire by hand, combining the benefits of working directly with a material and automation.
Computer-aided design and computer-aided fabrication (CAD/CAM) pipelines are well configured for engineering workflows where practitioners already have familiarity with the materials, tooling, and machines; for users without these skills, working with digital fabrication devolves to finding a model from a repository to print. This reflects a central issue within makerspaces – although Maker Culture has increased participation, the vertical development structures for creative development (towards mastery and material literacy) have not matured. In a collaboration with Adobe Research, Torres et al. proposed a new making model where the CNC machines produce intermediate computationally designed tools that aid users in making by hand, yet offers the benefits of automation (Figure 1). This work provided key insights for developing fabrication workflows that could exist in communities outside STEM fields and demonstrated the ability to increase engagement, innovation, and deviation in designs.
Figure 2: The LED, a staple of Maker culture, is a manufacturing blackbox that limits the ways that light is used creatively as a material. In Illumination Aesthetics (2017), the LED was decomposed into three layers to control the expression of light that leveraged principles from secondary optic systems. The results are artifacts the expand the creative repertoire of light forms to include light textures, soft/hard edges, and geometries outside the LED matrix and LED strip.
A central challenge in the field of tangible computing lies in how to allow users to manipulate, observe, and intuit intangible and invisible materials such as computation, electricity, heat, and light. Being able to materialize these elements had widespread success in programs and communities such as MAX/MSP (visual signal processing) and Scratch (visual programming). Dr. Torres extended the design theory behind this process to apply to working with intangible elements such as light (Figure 2) and heat (Figure 3). His design tools introduced computational design algorithms for digitally fabricating secondary optic elements and silver ink resistive heaters, usable by users without electronics domain knowledge
Figure 3: Phosphenes Handbag. Liquid crystal is a thermoreactive material that changes color from red to green to blue depending on temperature. This handbag was created by silkscreening liquid crystal design on top of a black cloth. Underneath, computationally designed flexible joule heaters selectively heat up areas of the handbag at user-specified times.
At UTA, Dr. Torres will direct The Hybrid Atelier – a research makerspace investigating the smart creative environment. Atelier is a French word that refers to a creative workshop and community, typically in textiles, but can refer to the creative environments and communities across a variety of disciplines including studios, kitchens, guilds, foundries, presses, and laboratories.
Figure 4: Where can the interface exist in a material environment?
In collaboration with Studio CreaTec in the Art + Art History Department, The Hybrid Atelier will be a site of creative inquiry for mixed-reality user interfaces, human-motion capture and analysis, and exploratory engineering of interactive clay, glass, and printmaking practices. The atelier investigates three central research questions around the creative environment:
- Physical Skill - How might we build cognitive and computational models of how practitioners develop physical skills? Can sensors in the environment and machine learning provide new insights into tacit knowledge? Can mixed reality interfaces provide new sensory cues to improve training and tutoring systems for physical tasks?
- Physical Interfaces - Well-established input/output (IO) devices such as the keyboard, mouse, and pen capture only a small subset of the dexterity of physical motion. How might we develop an embedded electronics platform for developing bespoke IO devices such as smart chisels, brushes, pottery wheels, and foot pedals? How might we expand the information bandwidth of tangible user interfaces? How might individuals from different creative communities integrate sensing, actuation, and computation within their creative practices?
- Smart and New Materials - How might the creative environment facilitate working with new or complex materials? How might we develop experiential workflows and provide tools for developing and expanding material literacy in K-12 STEAM education? How might we design efficient and creative workflows for advanced manufacturing and prototyping?
Figure 5: How might we develop input-output interfaces that capture the dexterity of human motion and cognition and integrate with existing tools of a practice?
Dr. Torres is actively looking for Ph.D., Masters, and undergraduates with a passion for making, especially those with interdisciplinary backgrounds, interested in becoming part of the atelier. Contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit him in ERB 559.