Technology tends to get in our way at least as much as it helps us. Music streaming, for instance, lets us listen to any music we want, but on the other hand we never had to re-log-in to our Walkmans while on vacation, only to find that all our downloaded music had been deleted.
The best tech, then, is often the simplest, and that’s the thinking behind Hoko, a little cuddly toy that tells you when your baby is too hot or too cold. It’s so simple and cute that the baby won’t even notice it, other than to try to grab it with its weak little fingers, and parents won’t even need to give it a second glance.
The Hoko works like this: Its plush body is connected to a sensor by a ribbon, and dangles inside Junior’s jacket. It measures temperature and humidity, and using this data it knows if your well-wrapped baby is too hot, too cold, or too steamy, and sweaty. The clever part is how it tells you what’s up. LEDs inside Hoko’s body glow with color-coded signals. Red means too hot, blue too cold. Yellow is for too much humidity, green means the battery is dying (it uses a button cell that lasts for around 80 hours), and white means everything is okay.
And that’s it: If Hoko isn’t showing a color, baby is happy. It’s hard to think of a more intuitive interface, which stands in contrast to most new baby gadgets, which connect to your smartphone.
“The decision to use an LED light came from a commitment to keeping things a simple and slick as possible,” HimiHoko’s Nicolas Plourde told Co.Exist.
“Ambient” gadgets like Hoko don’t just free you from useless distraction. Plourde and his team believe that they can free you to enjoy the world a little better. Plourde notes that urban Americans spend 90% of their time indoors.
“We created Hoko to address a precise issue; uncomfortable babies,” says Plourde. “And we did so in order to allow families to ease up the process of planning an outdoor outing. We think this is the first step towards our wider objective: to encourage positive interactions with nature for generations to come.”
When you think about technology, you think about gadgets, phones, things with buttons and dials. But we use plenty of other tech that we don’t even notice. Like Hoko, these devices are designed to achieve a specific goal. We don’t think about using the clock on the wall, for instance. We just glance at it, and almost subconsciously pick up on its information. Light switches, volume knobs, pencils, even the little flags on suburban mailboxes–all of these count as ambient technology. And yet wearable tech today–smart watches for example–has more in common with the smartphone or computer. It demands our attention, distracting us from the task at hand.
“We believe that wearable technology should be seamless and use the fewest interfaces it can to transmit information,” says Plourde, “so the issue only arises when technologies aren’t well integrated to the fabric of our lives.”
There are already products that use ambient feedback to guide us, like the Hammerhead, a strip of lights that mounts on a bike’s handlebars to guide you to your destination, without having to stop and check your phone’s map app every few hundred yards.
Gadgets like the Hoko and the Hammerhead are great examples of wrapping up high technology in low-tech, human-friendly designs. “It’s important to us that technology encourage human connection, not discourage it,” says Plourde.