MIT's Sixth Sense...what?

Ok, by now you have probably heard about MIT’s Pattie Maes (Fluid Interfaces Group) and her talk at TED last week. The internet has been buzzing about “research aimed at creating a new digital “sixth sense” for humans.

After reading a dozen articles, watching some demo videos, and digging around for more information, I have to admit that I am a little perplexed and less than impressed.

It seems that most of the emphasis in the press here, is NOT about the interface (which is clearly the point of Maes’ research and group) but rather the clunky hardware. The prototype is basically a webcam and a batter-powered 3M projector hung from the neck with a mirror at the bottom to angle the projector’s video onto the wall in front of you or some object. This is connected to a device like a laptop or mobile phone. That is the perplexing part. I don’t see what the big deal is here, but I could point out a dozen things goofy or awkward about it. It should be self evident that a setup like this is counterintuitive and not very fluid. I guess my problem is the projector hanging from the neck. It just strikes me as very limiting and backwards when there are other options for display that would be much easier and useful (hello, wearable displays?).

All that aside, there are some interesting things here. I don’t like wearing having to wear fingertips with different colors, but a gesture-based interface is definitely one of the right things to be researching. We have to break away from keyboards. I’ve seen some hand and finger tracking tech before, so this isn’t quite new (although from some news it is portrayed as such). Other things like accessing data from an RFID, or linking information and data to people and objects is also a step in the right direction.

So, kudos to MIT for trying to think differently and create something for the future. But really, get rid of the projector.