Earlier this year at the TED conference, Pattie Maes from the MIT Media Lab’s Fluid Interfaces Group showcased a wearable computing system that allows users to display and interact with the Web on any surface – including the human body. The video shows the system’s main developer, Pranav Mistry, taking photographs with his hand, summoning up Amazon review data onto the cover of a physical book, displaying information about a person he’s just met on their tee-shirt, and calling someone by inputting a phone number onto the palm of his hand.
Look out mobile phones, because in a decade’s time wearable systems may be the primary means of accessing the Web!
In the TED presentation, Maes refers to this system as a “sixth sense” – a sense that would give us seamless, easy access to information on the fly about situations and objects we come across.
The current system, albeit relatively clunky, could be purchased for as little as $350. Essentially it is made up of a webcam, a battery-powered 3M projector, mirror, phone and colored finger caps. But in 10 years – according to Maes, the period of time when this type of system might be fully developed – it could be one device and as small as a watch. Or indeed maybe even a brain implant.
This type of product will undoubtedly go well beyond what mobile phones are capable of now. As Maes put it, mobile phones currently don’t have easy access to all of the relevant information we need on a daily basis. A mobile phone still requires a user to change their behavior, she said.
Plus the Web as we know it today is full of manual steps, such as visiting websites and searching for information. In 10 years time we’d hope that the Web of Data would be much better realized, for example product data easily viewed outside of its official website no matter what the context.
One example given in the TED presentation was looking at a book in a bookstore. Currently to get access to reviews information, a person would need to take out their cellphone, open up Amazon’s mobile website – or a relevant iPhone app perhaps – and search for that book. Whereas with the wearable internet device demoed at TED, the user simply wiggles his or her fingers and up pops the Amazon rating on the front cover (reviews data can be reached by opening up the book).
You can see the power of this as a next generation Internet interface, as it removes several manual steps from the process of receiving relevant, contextual information about something or someone.
We’ve blogged a fair amount about sensors this year, because they connect the real world up to the Internet. The wearables system relies a lot on them, for example the caps on Pranav’s fingers. Add that to the many other points of connection to the Web and it’s a powerful system; for example the book has a barcode that, in combination with the wearable device, will pull down data from Amazon.com via the Web.
The Internet as Sixth Sense
As explained in a Wired article earlier this year (found via h+ Magazine), a lot of the information that “helps us understand and respond to the world” doesn’t come from the 5 senses humans are usually born with. It comes from computers and, increasingly, the Web. So the goal of this MIT wearable device is to “harness computers to feed us information in an organic fashion, like our existing senses.”
We at ReadWriteWeb are very excited about next-generation Internet interfaces, such as augmented reality and so-called cross reality. These wearable devices strike me as being the most impressive future Web interface that I’ve seen in a while. Check out the video and see if you agree.