Monday, March 31, 2008

A Visit From Leonardo Bonanni

On Thursday, our Graphic Design class had the privilege of watching a power point presentation created and presented by Leonardo Bonanni of MIT’s media lab. The central focus of this presentation was the concept of smart objects and smart spaces. Throughout the presentation, many examples of these smart spaces/objects were shown. As well, the idea of ubiquitous computing and the applications of the smart objects/spaces were discussed. Despite these main focuses of the presentation, one thing Bonanni obviously hoped his audience would take away from his presentation was the desire to think more creatively.

Truly, every example Bonanni presented was as imaginative as it was inspiring. He began by presenting a video demonstration by Pierre Wellner called “Digital Desk”. In this video, Wellner presents a concept for a smart space which is seemingly a desk with a projector above it. Wellner then describes his idea that instead of making the computer more like a desk, he is trying to make his desk more like a computer. The video then shows him tapping a projection of a calculator, treating it as though it were really a calculator. While, in reality, the demo did not work, it displayed concepts that required a fantastic amount of creativity to think of. Wellner continues to display the test taking tangible items, such as photos or books, and using them on the “computer”. For example, selecting text out of a book and dragging it into a text document. Bonanni explained to the audience that this was an example of a “tangible interface”.

In addition to this example, Bonanni showed a variety of smart objects. One that went very well with the audience was the “I/O Brush” which could take a color, texture, or even video from reality by placing the brush on the desired surface, and then “painting” a digital screen with it. One of Bonanni’s more elegant examples was the marble answering machine. Essentially, it was an ordinary answering machine that would record a message onto a marble and leave it in a tray. If the user decided they would like to keep the message, they kept the marble. If the user wanted to delete the message, they’d put the marble into a hole on the machine, erasing the message and putting the marble back into rotation. Additional examples were bottles that would play a song when opened, a computer that had a screen surrounding the user and would function based on gestures, an architecture work bench that would render shadows and other CAD features based on the placement of models, a doll that would move when a corresponding doll was moved, a toy that would stand up when a screen name became available on Instant Messenger, and a robotic rabbit that could play e-mails and allow the user to respond to them.

When someone first hears of these examples, they wonder to themselves “what is the purpose of this?” or “why would anyone ever want something like this?” The answer is simply to make something more accessible. To elaborate on this idea, Bonanni asked the audience questions such as “how do you make a child blog?” or “how do you get your grandmother to play an mp3?” To answer these questions, he stated that you might give a child a dry erase board that would post whatever the child drew. As well, he stated that you might use the music bottle example to get your grandmother to play an mp3 file. This truly summed up the purpose of smart objects and their purpose.

Bonanni also described the concept of wearable computers. The simplest example was a woman who would wear several standard input and output devices that altogether would act like a computer. For example, her glasses projected a screen. As well, Bonanni presented a video that featured a large pair of goggles and a backpack that, when worn, would emulate the game of pac-man onto normal streets. This also presented the concept of augmented reality which essentially were different applications of the pac-man game. Bonanni added that this would eventually lead to ubiquitous computing.

To conclude his presentation, Bonanni introduced applications of smart objects/spaces. These ranged from something as simple as having digital price tags in a grocery store, to something as unreal as having a virtual dressing room that projected clothes onto a mirror image of a potential buyer. As well, he described a museum that is going to use smart objects in order to help a museum-goer see what exhibits they have seen and not seen.

What really stuck with me after this presentation is the desire to think creatively. Bonanni stressed heavily that design will become the creation and improving of smart objects/spaces. As such, he gave his audience a taste of what smart objects are and how they will affect the future in hopes of the audience thinking of and possibly designing their own smart objects. While I do not desire to create my own smart objects or spaces, I am very interested in the progress being made in the area. I intend to research current developments and how I might begin to use these objects in my own everyday life one day.and how I might begin to use these objects in my own everyday life one day.

pierre wellner's digital desk

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