The work of Athanasius Kircher

Athanasius Kircher was a 17th century German Jesuit scholar who invented a large amount of interesting artifacts ranging from speaking tube, perpetual motion machines to cat pianos. Among the devices this Renaissance man created, there are two that I found amazingly intriguing, in terms of ubiquitous computing. The first one is a projector that used candlepower to cast images from glass plates onto a wall (as explained here):

By the flickering light of an oil lamp, Athanasius Kircher projected a series of images engraved on glass onto a wall. He could use his projector to illustrate lectures or simply to amuse his visitors.

And more interestingly, the following picture (from Musurgia Universali (1650)) has been recognized as being a very important step in the history of acoustic theory. This work shows how echoes and reverberations can be bounced for long periods of time in complex wall structures. It's basically a "piazza-listening device". As described in this paper, "the voices from the piazza are taken by the horn up through the mouth of the statue in the room on the piano nobile above, allowing both espionage and the appearance of a miraculous event".

Why do I blog this? I've heard about that incredible man the other day during Jef Huang's presentation at the "classroom of the future" workshop and thought it was a good time to dig more about his work. This sort of design research is impressive and strikingly relevant today when thinking about roomware.