In recent years, technological advances have enabled easier and more open connections between the digital and physical worlds. As a result we’ve seen a host of amazing products that have capitalised on the ability to be ‘connected’.
However, often it seems we are still at a loss as to the true potential of combining digital and the physical – think of a ‘smart’ object and the creation of a new, physical device that performs some kind of specific function comes to mind – smart toaster, smart thermostat, smart (insert latest connected-object-crowdsourced-project-title) – and whilst I think this exploration and development is great (I genuinely do), I wonder how much of what we ‘need’ to achieve could be realised through utilising, augmenting or enhancing the wealth of physical objects that we already have around us. Do we need to produce new objects to perform these tasks, and if so, how will they communicate with one another and how will their physical design integrate into and enhance our existing environments?
There has been plenty said about a future world full of smart objects only smart enough to do the one smart thing that they do well, and whilst a lovely utopian vision of lots of really smart objects all being really smart together seems perfect, as yet there are no standards enforcing ‘interoperability’ – the ability for devices to communicate, understand and trust each other. So, where does that leave us?
Well, just this week Sony announced the impending release of their Experia Touch – ‘a portable projector that transforms [any flat surface] into an interactive touch-screen’. Essentially a short-throw projector that seamlessly augments a digital experience onto your current physical surroundings. Pretty cool.
Now, granted on the, er, surface, the Xperia Touch does not appear ‘smart’ (at least in the current generalised definition), but closer inspection into its technical specification reveals the potential for otherwise – an accelerometer, GPS, gyroscope and barometer are just some of the items on the embedded hardware list. Whilst the initial market seems to be domestic households, Sony have been explicit about intentions for the Touch to become a new platform opportunity for developers (it runs on Android), and this coupled with all this embedded hardware could provide powerful potential.
Thanks to the slimline, minimal design it looks capable of integrating unobtrusively into many different environments whilst offering the potential to perform the functions of numerous singular connected objects. Currently the product launch is pending – and whilst I suspect otherwise, it would be nice to see a light, er, touch on the price point – more affordable and open hardware not reliant on ‘dumb’ physical objects seems to me a pretty useful thing.
So, a step towards a more connected world with the need for less new objects? We’ll see, but this certainly looks like a promising start from Sony.