Sunday, April 24, 2005

New ambient computing devices

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Regular readers of my main journal will know that I'm a little obsessed with "ambient computing devices" - that is, physical devices which, while presenting the same data-heavy information we would get from computers, present this information in a way that's easier for us humans to metaphorically analyze than simply a screenful of numbers and figures. So you might have a water fountain in your back yard, for example, whose pressure is tied to the worth of your stock portfolio, and when it's up the water shoots higher, and when it's down it shoots lower. You're getting just enough information to know whether to start panicking or start celebrating on any given day; if the fountain's empty, of course, or shooting over the roof of your house, you can always then jump online and get the detailed figures. There's a growing amount of such devices on the market, in fact - glass sculptures that glow blue to red, depending on the temperature outside, or barometer-type dials you hang on the wall, showing how many new emails you have.

And now you can add another entrepreneur to the list - Giovanni Cannata, an Italian graduate student who took on as a thesis the challenge of delivering internet tools to people who simply don't like using computers (like, er, a lot of older Italians, according to him). His solution - a series of ultra-simple standalone devices, like appliances in a kitchen, each dedicated to one thing an older person might enjoy doing online (exchanging photos, exchanging email, receiving internet television, VoIP calls, etc), connectable in a limited way by actual physical gestures the person uses on the device. So caress the right side of a picture frame, and it brings up new photos of the grandkids your daughter just sent. Touch the image, and the picture of the family prompts the phone to dial the family's number, or to bring up a new email to that family.

Ingenious! I can't wait to see what commercial applications might come from this graduate thesis. (Thanks as always to Gizmodo for pointing this out.)