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Tag: sodaconstructor

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Soda has released a mock-up of SodaPlay 2.0 (see blog here and here). It’s over on, and gives a pretty good idea of how the new system will work when fully functional.

Most exciting for SodaPlay enthusiasts should be the links to functional new style SodaPlay applications (see image above). These launch under Java Webstart, and require Java 5.0. and a discussion forum about SodaPlay 2.0 are also online.

And if you’re a true Soda fanboy, you can follow the exploits of the Soda creative team documented on the soda creative Flickr pool, of which Alexander Kohlhofer aka Plasticshore is the most prolific contributor.


Ed Burton from Soda has given some feedback on Tuesday’sSodaPlay 2.0 entry. He hastens to point out that Playforge is not strictly a XML framework just for SodaConstructor, but rather a general application framework that will form the base of all future SodaPlay applications. That way all projects based on Playforge will benefit from common services such as user authentication, persistence etc.

Here are some further explanations from Ed:

Why Sodaplay 2.0?
Currently is the home of the spring and mass editor and simulator Sodaconstructor together with the remarkably diverse models that hundreds of thousands of talented users have learnt to create with it. Here we launch our vision of Sodaplay 2.0 as an evolving ecology of applications of which a redeveloped Sodaconstructor will be just one. These applications can be created, modified, extended and shared by Sodaplay users themselves.

By giving a community of users that includes teachers, students, hobbyists and developers the ability to not only use but also modify and create applications that benefit from shared services such as online storage and discussion we seek to nurture a creative ecosystem of innovation that can develop and tailor applications to fit into multiple contexts spanning art, science, learning and play.

What is Playforge?
Playforge is the term we use for the underlying framework that Sodaplay 2.0 will be an instance of. Sodaplay applications such as Sodaconstructor and Sodacities will benefit from common Playforge services such as user authentication, persistence and discussion. Playforge will also make it possible to modify the user interface of an application by simply editing an XML file, or extend the behaviour of an application by augmenting it with additional java code all without the need to re-write the original applications source code.

Ed confirmed the link between SodaConstructor and the work of Karl Sims, pointing to an interview he did with Sims for It is recommended reading for anyone interested in evolutionary approaches to creature design. Thanks, Ed!


As mentioned in the previous post about Soda, there are some interesting new SodaConstructor developments in the works. While talking to the Soda crew in London a few weeks back I was lucky enough to get some details.

From its launch in 2000, the popularity of the SodaConstructor project exceeded all expectations. It was intended to be a simple experiment with Java, spring dynamics and meccano-like creatures, but quickly became a runaway hit with mentions in fashion magazines and the popular press. Something about SodaConstructor gets to people. You can call it the LEGO effect or draw parallels to the popularity of "god games", but put simply SodaConstructor is just good clean fun.

Today, SodaConstructor has over registered 200 000 users that can save their creations and show them off to others. The site sees over 200 000 visitors per month, many of whom are temporary visitors. For some users SodaConstructor has become both a serious hobby and an arena for research. There are even user-run community sites like sodaplaycentral, with serious articles on how to build "amoeba" type creatures and the workings of Multiple Stiffness Springs.

SodaPlay 2.0: The community. At first Soda was unprepared for the popularity of the project, and had no time to support or develop it further. A simple but much-needed mechanism for saving user models was added, and allowed for the Sodazoo. In 2002 SodaRace was released thanks to external support. It provided a XML file format for models, making it possible to automate model design through AI and alife strategies. With a nod to Karl Sims’ classic Evolved Virtual Creatures, SodaRace uses the metaphor of a race to evaluate the ability of different models to navigate a random terrain. It became a hit with the AI and engineering community.

Now, with the generous long-time support of NESTA Soda are working on combining the popularity and simplicity of SodaConstructor with the advanced functions of SodaRace. The result will be SodaPlay 2.0, which will combine community functions (think Flickr, with galleries, comments etc) with a XML application framework called Playforge for creating models as well as modifying the SodaConstructor environment itself. SodaPlay 2.0 is scheduled for launch sometime in the near future.

The details of the APIs and framework are still being worked on, but users will be able to customize the interface of the Constructor enviroment as well as the physical simulation being used. These modifications can be saved as “Extensions” and shared with other users. Like with SodaRace, a web API will allow communication and uploading to the SodaPlay server, so user-written applications can be used to contribute to the environment.

Other ideas like a SodaConstructor screensaver which automatically downloads models for display are in the works. As with any service, opening SodaConstructor up to users through APIs and standard file format could potentially transform how the tool is used and what results that can be produced. Constructor heads should have exciting times indeed.

I have asked the SodaPlay team to give a short explanation of PlayForge and future functions, I will post that in a follow-up when I get it.


Soda was one of the original interaction design companies that really walked the walk. Instead of talking about the future, they were making it all the way back in 1996. Originally focused on technology and art with more than a slight architectural interest, they created a number of installations exploring robotics and unconventional interfaces. See 2743, Corrupted Nature and C20 Screen for examples of this activity.

More recently, Soda’s Journey presents the viewer with an oh-so-subtle journey through artworks owned by the National Art Collections Fund. An advanced algorithm identifies similar structures in two different images, so that zooming in on a small area of the first image gradually reveals the second. The result is a hypnotic never-ending fractal zoom. When Casson Mann Designers were asked to create an exhibit on Energy for the Science Museum, they worked with Soda to develop the concept and behaviour of the 40 meter long LED screen that is the Energy Ring (see the video).

Soda’s biggest claim to fame is without doubt the SodaConstructor. Launched in 2000 as a personal experiment (Ed Burton wanted to learn Java), it quickly exploded and within months was receiving more than a quarter of a million visits per week. Since then, several improved versions have been launched and the SodaConstructor community has grown immensely. Some very exciting SodaConstructor projects are in the pipeline, more about that in a separate post.

Pure resarch is central to Soda. Alongside commercial work they have received and worked on numerous research grants. Their research is then fed back into the commercial work, or made available to the design and engineering communities. SodaConstructor and Moovl have received considerable interest and support from NESTA, with exciting future developments still to come. These tools have then been used in schools from kids at primary level up to engineering graduates.

Soda’s work is analytical, minimal and of high technical quality. Their projects always retain a purity of form and function, without unnecessary showiness or designer flourishes. Instead of scoring points for trendiness, Soda’s work is the real deal. Producing a high-quality mix of science, design and art projects that actually work, they remain a leading light in an interaction design industry filled with funky demos and non-functional prototypes.


Theo Jansen: Strand Beests

In the last few years, a number of projects that deal with complex motion generated by simple oscillation appeared. Sodaplay, Sw3d, Modulobe and probably others. Except Sodaplay, I was never too enthusiastic about these projects. They didn’t have the elegance of their 2D counterparts, they were more about struts and wires and too little about art. And you can see that from the design of the interface, to the ergonomics of the program. I could start a rant about “what if the design of the interface influenced the models” but I won’t (feel free to do so in your comments). Maybe the 3D adds a layer of complexity that hinders the minimal gracefulness of the organisms, maybe they are just not as fascinating to a non-tech-head like me.

Then I stumbled upon this. Extremely complicated, *very* 3D, compelling. Too bad I couldn’t find out more about the technical aspects. They are built from plastic tubes, and Mr. Jansen wants to build and entire herd and set them free on beaches in Sweden, like some lost tribe of self-transforming-alien-machines. They are built by a prcess wich mimics the Darwinian natural selection; they are put to race on the beach, the winner replicated with some modifications then the whole process reiterated. Today, his beasts can live/walk on their own a few minutes before intervention is required, but Mr. Jansen has plans to make them autonomous by incorporating racing and self altering behaviour, only then will they truly evolve as Darwinian living, walking, thinking, plastic beasts.

In 1980 he was building UFOs that caused quite a commotion. In 2005, he was awarded a Special Prize of the Jury in the Interactive Art category of Prix Ars Electronica. Special prize, Ars Elctronica. And his work doesn’t even involve electronics.
Not bad for his age, not bad for any age if you ask me.
Marcello Falco: Springs World 3D

Marcello Falco: Springs World 3D

There have been many efforts to duplicate the famous SodaConstructor, partly because it’s such a sexy piece and partly because the math involved (springs) is essential to many computational tasks. But Marcello Falco’s Springs World 3D has to be the most advanced yet.

Where SodaConstructor is playful, Springs World 3D is scientific. It’s a full 3D environment (complete with faux shadows) that supports very complex models, so that articulated 3D structures like vehicles, robots and animals become possible. Users can save their works to an online database, which can be enjoyed through the Fauna page. There are some interesting specimens in there, like the knuckle dragger, x2 and Merrily the box car racer.

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