FROM talking forks and smart clothes — the future of technology as seen through the eyes MIT Media Lab scientist David Rose is about making the computer personal.
Decades after their invention, computers look roughly the same. Though smaller and more portable, we still click, type and stare at flat screens.
But not for long, Rose argues in his new book, “Enchanted Objects: Design, Human Desire, and the internet of Things” (Scribner), which supplies his own research to argue that people desire direct interaction with technology.
“Screens fall short because they don’t improve our relationship with computing,” he writes. “The devices are passive, without personality. The machine sits on idle waiting for your orders.”
Rose believes that we really want magical objects straight out of the Harry Potter universe: “flying carpets, talking mirrors, protective cloaks, animated brooms.”
But in the meantime, we’ll have to settle for talking garbage cans and weather-forecasting umbrellas — both of which (plus eight others listed here) are already at least in prototype phases, if not on already on the consumer market:
1. The umbrella that forecasts weather
A piece of furniture that speaks to us — that’s the definition of Rose’s vision for the future with enchanted objects. The Ambient Umbrella communicates with its owner through a series of patterned blue lights that indicate if the forecast calls for rain.
Armed with your ZIP code, a wireless receiver at the handle of the umbrella connects to AccuWeather and then glows and pulses a gentle blue light if the weather looks frightful. This battery-powered umbrella is on the market — but it’s a lot more than the cheap $3 on every street corner. This one will run you $125.
2. The home that transforms at your command
Two-hundred square feet seems impossibly small, even by New York standards — but a new MIT-designed micro-apartment called CityHome can transform a 15-by-15 space into an exercise space, lounge, study, kitchen, and sleeping area, hopes to change all that.
The apartment is controlled by wall-mounted devices that resemble a clock. Just pick a time of day and the room morphs into the space you want. For example: “Once out of bed, his room moves into exercise mode: The bed lifts away into the ceiling, the floor space clears, and a full-wall, live video projection of a yoga studio starts.
“When he wants to study, a desk descends from the ceiling, the lights brighten and the drapes close. If he has friends coming over, the space clears out for a chairs and a cocktail table. At night, the bed emerges.”
Though not currently on the market, CityHome is currently seeking funding and hopes to enter the market soon, according to its website.
3. The bin that orders groceries
Another prototype developed by Rose and colleagues, this piece of “ambient furniture” makes for some magical garbage. The Amazon Trash can has a tiny camera and a bar code scanner that records everything you throw away — from household cleaning supplies to milk cartons — and sends the information to Amazon.com, where it is immediately reordered and shipped to you. No more grocery lists.
A second prototype that is being developed comments on your eating habits and grocery picks with choice statements like: “Third box of Oreos this week?” or “Microbrew, all right!” or “Blueberry juice, loaded with antioxidants.”
4. Know when someone is looking at your picture
An example of “reciprocal presence,” the LumiTouch picture frame enables the feeling of closeness, even for those continents apart. Inspired by long-distance relationships, it comes with two linked frames. When one person is near the frame, the background light of the corresponding frame glows. When one user touches the frame, it lights up in the area where the other user touched it. The colour shifts in response to how hard and how long you grip the frame.
A similar product is the Like-a-Hug jacket, developed by MIT’s Melissa Chow. This puffy vest inflates every time someone “likes” us on Facebook — whether we post a picture of our babies, a status update about the food we’re currently eating or political rant.
This, the designer says, allows us “to feel the warmth, encouragement, support or love that we feel when we receive hugs.”
The Like-A-Hug jacket is not for sale — but Rose envisions other examples of this haptic, or touch-based, technology might one day be: a phone that gets heavier as your voicemail messages pile up, a shoe that nudges your feet to walk in a specific direction or a wallet that gets harder to open once you approach a spending limit.
5. A bike that pedals for you
The Copenhagen Wheel, announced at the 2009 Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change and initially developed in an MIT lab as a research project, contains a motor that transforms a normal bike into a hybrid electric vehicle. The device consists of a motor and battery pack that snaps onto the back of the bike. As you pedal, the wheel captures excess energy when going downhill or braking and then helps propel you up steeper inclines or harder terrains.
The wheel can also connect to the internet, using it to record speed and distance travelled, finding friends throughout the city, inspecting air quality and even notifying yu if the bike starts to move when you’re not in the seat. In the mood to use up more calories? Using your smartphone, you can also vary the level of powered assist.
This reinvented wheel, listed for $799, is available for pre-order and will be out by end of this year.
6. The camera that records your entire life
The slogan — “a new kind of photographic memory” — says it all. This pedometer-sized camera called the Narrative Clip attaches to a jacket or shirt or from a necklace and records high-resolution geo-tagged images every 30 seconds without prompting. You can now track every moment of your day.
“Imagine what you’ll learn, what you’ll remember,” Rose writes. “Who was that guy I met at the airport in Singapore? What was that delicious dish we shared sometime around September of 2013? If you record long enough, you will end up with a visual record of (the rest of) your life.”
But constant self-monitoring comes at a cost. The Narrative Clip comes with a subscription service — and at $279 per year, you better be making some worthwhile memories.
7. The onesie that monitors your baby
Hi-tech helicopter parent — this one’s for you.
The Mimo Baby-Shirt measures infant respiration, skin temperature, body position, sleep patterns and activity levels. The organic (of course) cotton onesie is fitted with machine-washable sensors that can be monitored in real-time through your home’s Wi-Fi network. It also includes a microphone, so that you can stream your baby’s sound to your smartphone and the accompanying app allows you to crunch analytics about your baby’s sleep patterns.
Originally marketed to medical device development companies, they had a direct-to-consumer eureka moment when parents began contacting them to use their sensors, and, according to their website, they “haven’t looked back since.”
For $299 — a package that includes three onesies that come in only one size for up infants up to three months — you can pick one of these at your local Babies “R” Us.
8. A coffee table that eavesdrops
Imagine sitting with a friend over coffee and telling her about your recent trip to Italy. Voila! Pictures of the trip suddenly emerge under your mugs. When you mention the delicious gelato you tasted near the Pantheon, the corresponding picture flashes on the table as you speak.
Billed as an “instant photo album,” the Facebook Coffee Table uses real-time speech analysis to pick up keywords from your conversation to pull up relevant Facebook feed photos.
Rose is currently finetuning the design for a major hotel chain to function as a self-service concierge. The hotel table will feature nearby events, restaurant suggestions and displays about traffic and weather.
9. The house that tracks your kids
The “telepathic” Google Latitude Doorbell, another product developed by Rose and colleagues, lets you know where your family members are and when they are approaching home. The data about each family member’s whereabouts come from Google Latitude — transmitted from a smart device — but is communicated only as ambient doorbell chimes, a unique one for each person.
This has a pretty adorable origin story. Rose came up with the idea by merging the sound effects in “Peter and the Wolf” (a song for each character) and the Harry Potter series’ Weasley family clock, a magical device that keeps tabs on each child.
10. The fork that helps you lose weight
Introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2013, Hapifork made the jump from MIT research project to consumer household item in an impressively short amount of time. Perhaps it’s because we all want to lose weight — but we want someone or something else to do the hard work for you.
The $100, chunky fork, which comes in five colours, alerts you with a gentle vibration when you are eating too quickly. It also measures, using the tines of the fork, how long it took to eat your meal, the amount of “fork servings” taken per minute, and the time between servings. All this information is uploaded — more self-monitoring data — for your own enjoyment or horror, depending on how you eat.
Rose says this is an impressive start, but in within the next five years, he anticipates something more draconian: “Imagine an actual tooth replacement that responds to chewing action and is able to sense texture, temperature and chemical content of food and drink,” Rose writes. “In dire circumstances, it magnetically clamps onto the tooth above so you cannot continue to eat.”
Futuristic gadgets that will change your world