Virtual And Real Objects Meet And Become Smarter Objects At MIT

[Source: Fluid Interfaces via Vimeo]
[Source: Fluid Interfaces via Vimeo]
The line between the physical world and the virtual just got a little bit more blurred. Smarter Objects is a program developed by MIT Media Lab’s Fluid Interfaces Group that connects virtual objects to real ones in a way that the real can be controlled with the virtual. Smarter Object combines the adaptability of digital interfaces with the ease of use of real world devices.

To augment this reality, users point a smartphone at an object, like a radio. A Graphical User Interface (GUI) maps digital information onto the surface then an application recognizes the object and intuitively generates a graphical interface to control the object’s knobs and buttons or to be programmed from afar. What’s more, multiple Smarter Objects can be connected for a potentially limitless interface.

Unlike the radio sitting on your nightstand, a Smarter Object radio can play your own playlist of mp3s. Select the songs you like drag and drop them on the station knob. Witness Smarter Objects in the following video.

Smarter Objects from Fluid Interfaces on Vimeo.

[Source: Fluid Interfaces via Vimeo]

Smarter Objects attempts to combine the “muscle memory” operation of objects – such as changing stations on a radio – that, because they’re second nature, require very little visual attention, with digital interfaces that are more flexible but require more visual feedback. The developers actually conducted a study showing that augmenting a real image provides a more intuitive user control compared to virtually representing the object on a screen, by bringing together “tactile and visual awareness.”

Smarter Objects combines the intuitive ease of using real objects with the flexibility of virtual ones. [Source: Virtual Labs via Vimeo]
Smarter Objects combines the intuitive ease of using real objects with the flexibility of virtual ones. [Source: Virtual Labs via Vimeo]
The GUI can work with anything that has knobs and buttons, and the GUI and TUI – tangible user interface – is connected through a server through WiFi so that modifying one modifies the other in realtime. They’ve already used Smarter Objects to open a door, control lighting and “touch” a sensor without actually touching the sensor. They’ve also surfed the airwaves on a radio. Like an iPod meeting a boombox, the radio’s functionality is combined with playlists and online music sources. But say you don’t like Pandora but you still want variety. Multiple Smarter Object radios, such as another with a better speaker, can be linked through a feature called “tagging,” which is as simple as drawing a line with your finger between the two.

The usefulness of some possible combos might be questionable, but their coolness isn’t. The volume know of a radio can be connected to the speed button of a blender, for instance. But one could also link the coffee maker power button to an alarm clock.

And virtual objects can be added to the GUI space to give real objects functionality they never dreamed of. The clock connected to your coffeemaker could be virtual, and your Facebook page could be connected to your light switch to turn on every time there’s an update on your newsfeed – as if you weren’t about to check anyway.

For those of us having trouble figuring out how much easier Smarter Objects can make our lives, the developers describe several scenarios. It can lend a helping hand in the kitchen by programming the oven, food processor, and, if you’re like me, the microwave to operate at settings that the recipe needs or that worked the last time to give the Alfredo sauce just the right consistency. For smarter cars, Smarter Objects can also customize temperature and entertainment settings to each driver, and for those who like yard work, riding lawnmowers can be turned into Smarter Objects and their blade speed and mowing patterns can be preprogrammed and their gas levels monitored.

Google Glass augments objects with information, Smarter Objects augments them with functionality. It’s probably only a matter of time before the two are combined and we’re able to enhance the functionality of all objects we encounter, and the line between virtual and real worlds grows even more tenuous.

[Source: endgadget via YouTube]

Peter Murray
Peter Murray
Peter Murray was born in Boston in 1973. He earned a PhD in neuroscience at the University of Maryland, Baltimore studying gene expression in the neocortex. Following his dissertation work he spent three years as a post-doctoral fellow at the same university studying brain mechanisms of pain and motor control. He completed a collection of short stories in 2010 and has been writing for Singularity Hub since March 2011.
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