Thursday, May 5th, 2011 by Patrick
Report from Ubicomp Done Small, Cheap, Simple at FITC 2011
Here’s another summary of a session I liveblogged at this year’s FITC, Ubicomp Done Small, Cheap, Simple by Joshua Noble who’s currently studying at Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design in Denmark.
Joshua introduced his talk by saying that “Building interactive spaces and devices that communicate with spaces is not really all that difficult.” and explained his interest in this area came from having lived in many different places with the realisations that “many of us aren’t too connected to our streets and buildings and I’m curious what we as technologists can make these things more meaningful and real”.
Another quote that really struck me was “It is worth looking out beyond the screen. Trying to break the hegemony of the screen can create a really special place. If you can pick it up and twist it or it makes a noise or whirls around it’s really exciting”.
He pointed out that 100 years ago there was no such thing as a commute. Then we started driving to work and so we produced radio programming to support this new activity and a whole industry sprung up around that and he thinks there are lots of similar, unfilled niches that we can design services for today.
For this talk Joshua was focusing on small devices. Not just physically small but also small in footprint, infrastructure requirement and cost. Cheap is really important because once you can build something for $10 you’re happy to leave it where it might get rained on or eaten by a dog and that opens all sorts of possibilities.
Joshua also talked about some technologies that are small in these ways: micro-controllers like Arduino/TI MSP-430 (very, very small)/PIC/AVR; QR codes; radio frequency (like remote control vehicles use) you can get modules for $3-4 and they robustly send data 400m; XBee mesh network protocol you can get 16km range with the right antenna and they cost $16; RFID tags are cheap and small and getting more so; IR beams as a cheap way of transferring data in indoor, short range line of sight applications.
There’s a niche to fill in enabling local relationships. As Joshua said “I have a million tools for connecting with people in Japan but I want to be able to connect to people on the bus”.