Look Uses Cloud to Bring Fresh Art to Digital Picture Frames

The whole idea of Look is to show how easy it is to put pictures on a device, CEO says. Users have to do nothing to use the device.

A painting, photograph or other inanimate piece of artwork hanging on a wall is an unblinking statement of what the artist had in mind for a viewing audience.

Well, thanks to the cloud and a new product called Look Connect, art now blinks and refreshes itself every few seconds -- or not at all, if one prefers.

We're all familiar with digital photo frames, the simple digital device with a monitor that uses a USB stick full of photos to display slide shows in a home or office, or wherever the user wants to station it.

Look Connect, a new cloud service whose KickStarter campaign began June 2, takes this concept miles higher, and then runs another mile away with it.

High-Definition Art on Demand

Look Connect runs on the Look, a 24-inch diagonal high-definition photo frame that provides the home with all the art that is made available through the Connect service. And there's a lot of art available.

"The easiest way to think about Look is that it's a next-generation digital picture frame," Sheldon Laube, the Los Altos Hills, Calif.-based founder and CEO of the company, told eWEEK. "But the regular digital picture frames have a serious problem in that after a time they run out of new pictures and simply repeat showing the ones they have stored. Even if you have a lot of pictures stored, they eventually have to repeat. And it's just too hard to get new ones on the device.

"The whole idea of Look is to show how easy it is to put pictures on (a device). We decided that nothing is easier than doing nothing. And nothing is all it takes to get pictures on here."

That's right: Users need to do exactly nothing to show an unending flow of new artwork and photos on a Look digital screen.

Runs on Raspberry Pi PC

The Look has a Linux Raspberry Pi computer inside it, connecting it via WiFi to the Look Connect service. That's where the product really shines, because a Look Connect account ($9.95 per month) enables the user to connect to his/her favorite photo streams (think Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, Box, Dropbox, Shutterfly, and so on) and show a literally unending number of images from social media and photo storage, because new pictures are being added every minute.

But that's hardly the only content that Look uses. Throw in the entire Getty Photos library (which amounts to more than 50 million images), plus more than 500,000 classic works of art from all over the world and all through the centuries, and you begin to see the range of what Look provides. These content sources are all licensed for use in this service.

"People steal images every day on the Internet," Laube said. "But these are all licensed and perfectly legal. You won't do anything different than you already do today to get pictures displaying on your Look."

There's an entire additional selection of art created by Laube's wife, Nancy, a professional artist who specializes in urban multimedia images.

There is a lot of control for users. They can specify with a high level of granularity the type of art they would like to display in Look. For example, if you're really into World War II aircraft, you can set that preference to show only P-38s, B-17s and Spitfires. Or, if you really like Cezanne's art, you can specify that. If you only want to show certain friends' photos from Instagram or Pinterest, that, too, can be preordained.

So these are the images that keep the Look device blinking with fresh new content every 30 seconds, minute, five minutes, or whatever interval the user prefers.

Laube Has Long History in Startups

Laube is well known around Silicon Valley as a serial entrepreneur (Look is his fifth startup). He served as Chief Technology Officer at Novell in the early 1990s and has co-founded Internet consulting firm USWeb and IT services hosting provider CenterBeam, and was founder and CEO of Zwamy Inc., which developed Look Connect's cloud-based software. Recently, he started Artkick, a sister service to Look, in that it serves up the same art on connected television screens.

Laube also served for three years (2009-2012) as PricewaterhouseCoopers' Chief Innovation Officer.

Laube has dealt with many a venture capitalist in days gone by, but not this time around. Instead, he has opted to go 21st-century with his Look funding: He went with a Kickstarter campaign. Beginning June 2, he invited art fans to throw down $399 each in return for the chance to own one of the first 150 Look screens to be made. The fundraising target is $50,000; his projected delivery date is October. The Look units themselves eventually will retail for $499; the Look Connect service costs$9.99 per month.

A half-day after launching the Kickstarter initiative, he had already raised 60 percent of his target, Laube said.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 13 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...