15 September 2007

Motorola on ambient non-intrusive displays

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Frank Bentley of Motorola recently posted his thoughts on ambient displays, i.e. devices that sit in a person’s periphery and convey information related to an information source in a non-intrusive manner.

His reflection is all about the currently very active field of presence research, though strangely he doesn’t use that word. I very much like the challenges he posts at the end:

“Over the past few decades many researchers have built devices that use light, color, sound, or motion to convey information about people, activities, and places. These devices let people see information at a glance, without the need to go to another device or navigate an interface. Particularly interesting to me has always been how our environments can keep us more aware of those that we care about and help strengthen social bonds. […]

In our research, we’ve been investigating how these sorts of displays can help people learn more about the lives of others in their close social networks. We’ve found that these devices can draw people into richer types of social media experiences by conveying social information in the home on an always-on device and can be frequently observed without any additional effort. This powerful new way to get data fits nicely into people’s routines and helps them be aware of their social network without the need to do go out of their way to check a web site or computer application to receive social information.

The power in this class of devices is in delivering information about others who are important in our lives in a way that reminds us of these people and their activities as we go about our lives. While from time to time it might be nice to see the weather or another information channel, the frequently changing information about the people in our social circle allows us to become more aware of their behaviors and have social experiences that would otherwise not occur. These are the exciting aspects of ambient devices that were not possible with existing computer and television-based interfaces. As we all continue to lead increasingly busy lives, the ability to tie into the patterns of others can help us stay social and connected.

There are two big challenges in this space from a research perspective. The first is to create displays that are truly ambient and don’t interfere with the home environment. We want to ensure that we can provide useful information without distracting people from their home lives. The second challenge is all about finding the most useful information sources for these displays. Obviously, the two are closely tied together and are a big part of our research into ambient communications. We have a few educated guesses that we’re currently testing and hopefully will have some data to report at a conference next year.”

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