Augmented reality on smartphones may well be a killer app, but MIT’s Fluid Interfaces group is already moving beyond the confines of a GPS-capable cellphone to create a data-driven “Sixth Sense.”
The group, part of MIT’s Media Lab, designed a device that gathers data on the environment around the user, searches for information using the Internet as a data store, aggregates the results, and presents it back to the user via a display. Think of it as a meta-data system for real life.
Dr. Pattie Maes demonstrated the system at the TED conference. It comprises an off-the-shelf webcam, mirrors, smartphone, and a pico-projector–all hung on a lanyard. The device recognizes the movements of the user’s hands via the webcam (and color-coded finger-gloves worn on index finger and thumb,) enabling gesture-commands like the classic “frame” gesture which makes the device snap a photo.
In a bookstore, the device could recognize a book the user selects (either by image recognition or RFID) and project information onto it, such as its Amazon rating or annotated notes. A newspaper would prompt the device to search for relevant news video clips, while an unrecognized person might prompt the display to show their contact details, and so forth.
Maes compared the system to Microsoft’s Surface interactive display tech, with the exception that Sixth Sense is portable and lets the user transform any flat surface, or perhaps any object, into an augmented-reality display.
It’s only a research project now, but it’s a glimpse at the power future gadgets may possess. Essentially, it would give the wearer access to data on almost any object he or she encounters, make 3D Google Maps seem trivial, and bring online social networking to the “real world” in a wholly new way. Most of this data is accesible via the Net and a traditional notebook PC already, but the Fluid Interfaces group is re-thinking the way we interact with the world without requiring us to change our normal behavior. “Sixth Sense” indeed.
TED photo courtesy of Eric Hersman.