I’ve been having a look at some cool input technology concepts from Microsoft’s first ever PC Hardware Designs of the Future Project.
Twenty four MA Industrial Design students from Central Saint Martins College of Arts and Design were briefed to design innovative hardware devices with a focus on user experience, trying to create possible alternatives to the mouse or keyboard, or a more abstract consumer device.
Problems to be solved
The great thing about this competition was that the students had to try to address clear consumer needs, and there was a wide variety of problems considered.
Accessibility is close to my heart, so I really took to the couple of products that focused on helping make experiences better for people who are often limited by the world around them.
Making reading more accessible
Cai Jun Yang designed a beautiful multi-functional device, ‘Drag Fun – Easy Reader’ that could scan text and output it in braille, audio and translated audio. It also looks like the kind of object you’d want to own!
Assisting older generations with computer input
Digital natives and long-time users often forget how difficult the concept of using a mouse can be, particularly for older generations who are unfamiliar with digital hardware in general. Liliana Carvalho designed the ‘Double’ as a dual-input mouse pad, which looks similar in concept to a track pad, but allows another user to assist a struggling user without having to take the input device from them, an interruption which would limit the user’s chance to learn whilst completing a task.
Children spending too much time on devices
‘The Switch’ is a massive button designed by Lucie Barouillet that allows the user to remotely disable the internet connection on all devices on its network with one tap. I like the idea that you could just give a warning with a short press too, rather than a long press for the disabling action, and I imagine that this would appeal to a lot of parents!
Being unable to see a USB stick’s capacity by looking at the physical device
Chun-Ling Wu’s ‘Syringe USB’ is a potential solution to a problem I hadn’t even thought about before. We have indicators on batteries that show how much power they have left because otherwise you must attempt to use them in order to find they won’t work. USB sticks have that same problem, and the syringe element of the USB stick could be a fun visual indicator of available space.
Passive social media users
A lot of users on social networks will consume a lot without sharing. The ‘Social Media Dice’ designed by Rahul Boggaram, allows a user to share their digital content at random, but also based on gestures. This could act as a kind of gamification, encouraging users to share more because sharing is made more fun.
Digitisation of notes
The ‘Digipost’ designed by Yuhan Wan aims to help users digitise their otherwise easily-lost post-it notes through a pad that creates a digital copy of the note as it is being written on a physical piece of paper. I find this a cool idea because it doesn’t aim to completely replace physical items, as so much hardware and many apps do. The Digipost appreciates the throwaway nature of the post-it note but also finds the value in having a backup.
New input devices
A few of the products really took to the idea of a new input device. These are all focused around making life easier for the user, simplifying processes or allowing the user to interact with an object in a more relaxing way.
Freeing up the hands
The ‘Museo’ designed by Tom Maisey is an electric audio-visual interface which allows the user to adjust the sound levels and effects produced when playing their instrument. The idea behind the Museo was to allow the kind of control usually achieved through in-ear monitors and volume control, but using the feet so that the musician could keep playing, hearing their changes to the settings as they are made.
Malleable objects that react to being distorted
Both Martyna Bielecka with the ‘Bendy-Cam’ and Victor Johansson with ‘Keyflex’ (the winning product) explored interacting through twisting, bending and shaping the input device in the users’ hands.
The ‘Bendy-Cam’ particularly appeals to me in the way that the user sees the image on the paper-like screen in front of them, and it is this that they use to input the gestures. Something about it feels very futuristic!
The ‘Keyflex’ is clever in the insight of the designer, Victor Johansson, acknowledging that users will likely want to input a huge amount using the device, but only having a few gestures/ways to manipulate the object. Being able to combine gestures and using gestures in addition to a function button could prove hard on a users’ memory at first, but reminds me of all these new problems that mobile app designers are finding as they introduce new gestures for the first time.
Utilising existing human motion
The ‘Designer Gloves’ by Duo Zhang are an amazing concept that seems to belong in a sci-fi film. These gloves could be used to digitise the movement of the wearer, allowing them to replicate physical actions in a digital space. Two of the examples given, one of street artists recording their work as it is created, and one of sculpturers modelling with air, really made me start to think of loads of cool possibilities that would be brought about by these gloves. Imagine scanning 3D objects with your hands!
Creating immersive experiences
It’s often said that the problem with augmented reality is that it’s just used in too separate a way to actual reality for it to be properly immersive. This is why these last two products interested me in particular.
The ‘Ambient Games Capsule’ designed by Alexandra Sidorenko is something I would love to have in my living room whilst I was playing video games. The idea is that this glass ball would project images from the game environment into the real world. Reminiscient of the televisions that are backlit with colours from the TV picture, I could imagine this in people’s houses in the not-so distant future.
To me, possibly the most fascinating product design was ‘The Semaphone’ by Masami Lavault. This concept is a pair of shell-like devices linked via the internet. Each device records the actions of the nearby user and reflects them as a light output to the other device. These ‘light rhythms’ would then show the activity of the other user, aiming to overcome the barriers of physical space for people interacting virtually.
I love the idea of ‘The Semaphone’. The way in which it could give the feeling of the presence of another person, when they could be on the other side of the world, makes me think it could be very reassuring to those trying to maintain relationships over a great distance. It very much appeals to my romantic side, something which I wouldn’t usually associate with future technologies, which makes it all the more inspiring.