Mediascape: LRI's mediaspace

A picture of myself taken by a spy
camera NOW.

Some historical notes

The mediaspace here at LRI was imagined by Michel Beaudouin-Lafon in 1993, when returning from his sabbatical year after having spent several months at University of Toronto with Garry Beirne, then on the Telepresence project, and at Xerox's EuroPARC.

The mediaspace was first implemented by myself (Christophe Tronche), with some help from Alain Karsenty and Thomas Baudel. We had to check many electronic suppliers in Paris (where is located our university), to get the needed cameras, monitors, cables, and other material. We had then to solder an uncountable number of plugs, to crawl in the cupboards, and to practice some other sports to install the hundreds of meters of cable through our lab (for the great entertainment of our colleagues). We fight like ancient heros (we felt), to debug the whole system, and some night, at 2 o'clock in the morning, the hour for the great successes, after lots of efforts, I connected the first two nodes: two cameras linked to two monitors allowing two peoples to communicate. Michel and I stared at each other for several seconds, and then he laughed. "What's going on ?", I asked. "I was just thinking that we could achieve the same result just by removing the wall separating our two offices !".

The work was just beginning...

Michel arranged for Eurecom to lend us a video switch. We had to write some software to drive it. This one was controlled through a MIDI interface. We had no machine with such an interface, so we choose to use a serial port from an HP700 with a RS232 -> MIDI converter. To help debugging the whole stuff, Michel, a hobbyist musician, brought with him some of his favourite electronic toys (the kind that says "boiiing" when asked by the way of a MIDI channel). And again at 3 in the morning, one hour late for a great success, we were able to perform some charleston solo through an incredibly complex set of boxes,cables and computers. And later on, to switch several of our video channels. The mediaspace was born. It consisted then of four video nodes.

We soon wrote some software to play with our new toy.

Thereafter, the Web explosion shaked our mediaspace, and we introduced the ability to drive it from inside a Web browser (it was Mosaic at that time). The other great novelty was our purchasing of several SGI's Indy workstations, with integrated video capabilities. This allowed us to display on the web the real-time updated status of some of our offices (on our home page), at some time around 1994, and a movie taken on the last 24 hours since November 1996.

And the adventure goes on...

Today, we're still making the mediaspace evolve. We formerly called it "Lascaux", by reference to the french prehistoric caves of the greatest archeological interest. But our newcomer Nicolas Roussel, whose thesis is dedicated to mediaspace systems (and now our most active media-developer), renamed it "Mediascape".

I left the project in October 1997, when moving to another lab. But I reactivated the software in May 1998, after starting to implement artificial vision algorithms for automated manufacturing on a cheap platform. This one is a PC (K6 200 MHz) running Linux with a Sequence P1S video acquisition card and a relatively cheap 2x1x1'', fixed focal camera.

Some experiments with our mediaspace: real time movies on the Web.
Christophe Tronche,