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In the coming future, buildings will be able to listen to their occupants, learn from them, act upon their needs and order for them. Homes will collect information about their occupants and visitors through traditional means like sight, sound, and device detection, but they will also detect touch, heat, radar, and smell. As homes become smarter, they will proactively prepare for their occupants and provide ambient care by automatically anticipating resident needs and adapting to them. These so-called “ambient dwellings” will take advantage of multi-layered native communication between resident and structure, moving beyond simple sensor-based feedback loops to much more complex processes that are a natural result of coexistence.
Through the lens of ambient computing, Google’s Seed Studio is imagining new ways to interact with technology. The studio collaborated with industrial design studio Map Project Office to come up with a novel approach to non-invasive notifications for the home environment. The constant barrage of devices alerting users with vibrations, pop-up banners, light and message tones can be overwhelming and lead to mental fatigue while driving users to distraction. Google’s “Little Signals” wants to offer an alternative way to interact with technology and the notifications inherent to device use and daily life.
The six Little Signals, Air, Button, Movement, Rhythm, Shadow, and Tap, all make use of different sensorial cues to signal for the user’s attention non-invasively through distinct methods of background communication. Simple movements and controls bring them to life and respond to changing surroundings and needs. Each device has its own communication method. Air uses pulses of air to move nearby objects, such as the leaves of a houseplant, to attract attention. Button grows as it fills with information or notifications, and it can be turned to provide more or less details. Movement graphically represents information through seven pegs that work individually or as a group. Rhythm is a notification pathway that generates ambient sounds to convey information through urgency and tone. Shadow communicates through the shadows it casts; while Tap rounds out the set of sensorial stimuli by tapping on surfaces to reframe the concept of a notification sound.
Google has released the Little Signals code so that anyone can build their own devices. The package includes files for 3D printing, and instructions for constructing the six notification pathways using household items if curious consumers don’t have access to their own 3D printer.
This article originally appeared in the PSFK iQ report, The Future of Home and Living.