Even the best designed smarthome apps can feel a little lifeless compared to flickable light switches and spinnable thermostats. Which is why German studio The Family of the Arts is working on a tactile alternative to the smarthome apps of today.
Simply called Cube, the device is a small black cube that you can carry around your house, place on any surface, and use it to control nearby lamps, shades, thermostats, and speakers contextually. At night, Cube fits into the wall–right where a lightswitch would normally go–to dock and recharge.
“We all have arrived at a point where we all use displays and GUIs all the day,” explains studio founder Dario Jandrijic. “We all are permanently distracted from our real physical social lives. With Cube you are not distracted. You can use it without thinking about it.”
The interface works through a combination of just three gestures. You tap Cube on the table to turn it on, so that each blank side reveals its function in a backlit icon. Then you flip the cube so your intended function, like music, sits on top. And then you twist the cube left or right to throttle the controls. So a twist left would turn the music down, and a twist right would turn it up. Or if lighting was selected, a twist left would dim a lamp, while a twist right would brighten it.
In other words, Cube is the equivalent of a smart knob or dimmer. What makes that one tool so useful is its ability to respond to specific context–on a kitchen table, Cube might control the light only above that table, while near a lamp in the living room, it might control only that lamp. Yet it’s not constrained to only working in context. Because with a flip, Cube can go from controlling the light in one room to the temperature of your whole home. It provides an effortless transition from macro and micro level control, all built within a gesture rather than a deep onscreen menu system.
So is there a catch? Of course there’s a catch. The total number of functions Cube can handle is inherently limited to the six sides of a cube. It’s easy to see how Cube could become location aware so that it might simply mix and match different functions depending on the room you’re in; a Cube placed in your bedroom would know to make one side an alarm, while a Cube in your living room would dedicate one side to your home theater’s surround sound.
But for now, it’s just an idea, as Cube looks to be somewhere in the conceptual prototype stage.The Family of the Arts has pitched two major manufacturers in Germany to bring the device to market, but has yet to find a company to do so.