SixthSense prototype portends “The Internet of Things”

Today I learned about SixthSense, a wearable gestural computer interface developed at MIT’s Fluid Interfaces Group, a research group devoted to the design of interfaces that are “more immersive, more intelligent, and more interactive.”

Here’s how the group describes the interface:

The SixthSense prototype is comprised of a pocket projector, a mirror and a camera. The hardware components are coupled in a pendant like mobile wearable device. Both the projector and the camera are connected to the mobile computing device in the user’s pocket. The projector projects visual information enabling surfaces, walls and physical objects around us to be used as interfaces; while the camera recognizes and tracks user’s hand gestures and physical objects using computer-vision based techniques.

These images give you an idea how the prototype works and the kind of functionality it presages:


Here’s a link to a video that shows some great demos of SixthSense.

Fluid Interface Group’s work makes me think of one of the best film portrayals of a futuristic computer interface: the one Tom Cruise uses in the film Minority Report. In the movie, Cruise’s character uses virtual-reality gloves to manipulate a large interface virtual interface in front of him — very exciting to see.

This work of the Fluid Interface Group touches on the “Internet of Things,” an idea I first heard put forward by the Auto-ID Labs, a group working in the area of networked RFID. One of our ILO Institute reports on new directions for RFID discussed some of the possibilities for this Internet of Things:

If miniature Web pages and servers could be embedded in building materials, components of vehicles and aircraft, furniture, appliances, apparel, and other places, this could have huge implications for marketing, communication, and provision of services, not to mention changing the very nature of the world around us.

MIT’s Sanjay Sarma tells ILO researchers that this Internet of Things is “going to have a huge impact,” and that RFID is one of the key enabling technologies. He points out that RFID creates a greatly increased connection between the physical world and the world of information by connecting more data to physical things and transferring it at much greater speeds in much greater volumes. “We used to connect data to the physical world through keyboards, but there’s only so much data you can get in through the keyboard. But with RFID it’s automatic and it’s happening all the time.”

Sarma says that the Internet of Things will allow you to “have control in your enterprise in a way that is completely unprecedented.” Sarma calls this control “high-resolution management—management with eyes everywhere, as opposed to management by gut reactions and guesswork.”

The high volume and extreme complexity of this Internet of Things presents unique opportunities and challenges for the technology provider. “If you are in this market,” says Sarma, “you should be looking more and more at distributed computation, and you should be looking at embedded computations, at areas related to distributed software, at software related to data acquisition, and at software related to process change. They’ll all be changing in the next ten years.”

(“Directions for New RFID Initiatives,” ILO Institute, Aug. 23, 2006)

AB — 17 March 2009


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