Wednesday, March 11, 2009

ETech: Cookie Scale Computing

I'm in "Cookie Scale Computing" with Jeevan Kalanithi and David Merrill...

Jeevan and David talking about Siftables at TED

The computing element that is at the cutting edge right now is about the size of a chocolate bar, but following Moor's Law what happens when that gets down to a cookie. Thinking about the way we interact with things, what's actually good about this?

There is a real problem with the way we interact with computers these days, we have to be pulled out of the physical world we live in and into a small box. Mobile phones make this problem worse, not better, we're pulled out of our environment and into an even smaller screen. How do we design an interface that better merges the physical and virtual worlds?

What are the sort of things we use computers to do? Basically it boils down to problem solving, in the old days of punched cards the feedback loop when running a program was very long, these days it's shorter. However the way we interact with the problem is important. Objects that build the problem into their physical shape make it easier to solve the problem.

Tangible computing, ubiquitous computing and gestural computing as well as table top computing and sensor networks are the major research trends that are important when we're considering how to interact with objects when the technology start getting smaller and smaller.

Siftables are small cookie sized computing devices that has a screen, the ability to sense its neighbours, can communicate wirelessly and can sense how its being manipulated via an accelerometer. They can also sense the surface they are on...

This work has led to some work on multi-gestural interfaces. For instance grouping, Putting everything in the same group means that these are the same. Then there is gathering, you can't represent infinite amount of stuff with a limited number of physical items, so if you have a number of items that are grouped together you can pull them all into one siftables using a sucking gesture, and free up the other siftables to represent new stuff.

Other gestures could include inclining, angling the two siftables towards each other to create and strengthen a link between them; angle them away from each other to weaken the link. Pouring, sending an attribute from one item to another. Queuing, place siftables in a line to create ordered list. Stacking is a similar thing.

Thumping, slap the surface that the siftables rest on to save their state and swap to a new set of data, or slap the surface on which they rest to rest them....

Tangible computing is of interest precisely because it is not purely physical, it is a physical realization of a symbolic reality. - Paul Dourish

Real hardware...

Siftables key features include a multi-person, information-centric collaboration around collections on a tabletop with three-day interaction. The siftables can come up off the table and be gesture sensitive. Finally we can offload working memory and mental computation onto the tool.