August 18, 2003

Smart Skins for Dumb Objects

One of the nicest projects I saw in Ivrea's student show was Rikako Sakai's Smart Skins for Dumb Objects. Now I see the Smart-Its project.

In a sense, both of these seem to have the same goal of retrofitting intelligence to transition objects between the dumb object world we live in now and a world where many more domestic objects have intelligence, or to move intelligence between dumb objects.

I think that's an excellent approach to exploring the possibilities of these object and a way to introduce them to people's lives. If useful functions for these kinds of symbiotic brain prosthesese (is that a word?) are to be found (oh boy, it's so easy to slip into biological metaphors here and slide into the “cyborg world” discussion, which is a total rat-hole and leads to all kinds of big words and hazy ideas... ;-) and people are to accept them, attaching smarts to familiar objects is certainly the way to go.

I like Sakai's approach a bit better than Smart-Its, based on what little I know about that project. She seems to have started with human needs and is working toward technological solutions, whereas Smart-Its seems to be grounded in the wires and trying to create a technological platform first and then figuring out how to apply it. Yes, there needs to be back-and-forth between understanding the capabilities of the technology and thinking about its applications. However, thanks to the proliferation of wireless devices (specifically WiFi) the potential in small technological units that can talk each other is pretty obvious, so I'm not sure how another hardware platform is really going to change things (though I'm still open to discussing it--clearly a bad choice of hardware will delay the acceptance of the technology), but there is plenty of need for interesting ideas about how to apply this stuff.

Moreover, what I liked about her stuff is that although it's in the same vein as, say Tony Dunne and Fiona Raby, it seems less self-referential and more about people's actual needs, rather than a commentary on the technology.

Anyway, this thought is that I believe that we're at a point where these things are an engineering reality and now the challenge is to make them a human reality.

Posted by mikek at August 18, 2003 05:07 PM | TrackBack

I think smart-its and smart skins are difficult to compare since their approach is not on the same level. smart skins is a project targeted from the design point of view, as in physically augmenting the interactive possibilities of everyday life objects, and smart-its deals with the technological possibilities of technologies that can be applied to objects, in general.

their diverse approach leads to a basic difference: one is about how we use technology, the other is just where's technology nowadays. so a deeper analysis would lead to think both projects are even complimentary to each other, and not overlapped. i can imagine a smart-wrapped world embedding smart-its techies.

it points to the difference between design and technology, and maybe also to the symbiosis both fields must develop. it also points to the due distance both fields must have from each other, in order to successfully fulfill their goals and rightly address their pertinent necessities, envisioning their counterpart's evolution and using it productively, while not being tainted with each other.

technology has been for so much time (and i'm talking about the greek times) a goal for humanity, and nowadays we're so much into technological development that we're losing the ability to smartly use all the capacity of it, since we're too busy making more of it, for technology's sake. a pencil is a technology, but it's main purpose is to write (wich is as well, a technology), and even though pencil tech ahs evolved, all pencils do let us write, keeping it the main purpose of them.

hope i make sense.

Posted by: pollux at August 19, 2003 08:33 AM

I agree that they're at different levels and complementary, which I think is the problem: again, I don't know THAT much about Smart-Its, but it looks like another attempt at creating a hardware platform to do something that other hardware platforms already do. (which I think is the point of your last paragraph)

What I see is a kind of embedded controller with wireless communication capabilities, but the embedded controller world already has lots of standard pieces that do that. Although they often compete, it doesn't seem all that useful to create yet another thing that something similar, when what's really needed--I feel--is innovation in applying existing tech to people's lives.

Simply, the Legos are already there, so why create another standard until you've exhausted (or at least explored further) what can be done with the existing blocks?

[now that I think about it, maybe the goal is to make for a platform that's easier for students to learn from, but there are already several things that also do that, so why start from scratch?]

I'm going to keep reading and following the Smart-Its thing, but that's my first reaction to it, especially when compared to Sakai's stuff, which may have been technologically less sophisticated but was looking in a more fruitful direction.

Posted by: Mike at August 19, 2003 12:17 PM

"Smart skins for dumb objects" evokes Natalie Jerimijenko's phrase "people do smart things with dumb technologies, and dumb things with smart technologies."

A technologist adding something deemed "smart" to something he thinks is "dumb" seems to fly in the face of Natalie's nice observation. Many "dumb" objects are supremely well-designed to provide a single appropriate use, and stay out of the way the rest of the time. Most attempts at "smart" objects still feel like electronics lab projects attatched to everyday things with too much Scotch tape and a big sign that reads "look how Smart the designer is who put this smart lightbulb on this dumb block of wood. Isn't he Smart?"

Posted by: Andrew at August 20, 2003 07:13 AM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?