Google has unveiled a “design study” in ambient computing, consisting of a collection of objects that can deliver notifications subtly via taps, gentle breezes, and shifting shadows.
Little Signals is the name of the experiment, and the company says it’s looking into “calm computing,” or ways to keep you informed without having your phone blare a notification chime or light up a screen.
Little Signals is a “series of interaction experiments” created by the Google Seed Studio (and Map Project Office) to create “advanced concepts for Google hardware devices,” according to Experiments with Google’s Digital Wellbeing Collection.
With the disclaimer that this isn’t on track to become a real Made by Google product, we can see how the company is looking into how technology can “subtly signal for attention” (notifications) and share other information in your smart home without being overwhelming – as opposed to today’s Smart Display visual alerts or loud sounds from speakers – by “engaging with our senses in more nuanced ways.”
Each object has its own method of communicating, like through puffs of air or ambient sounds. Additionally, their small movements or simple controls bring the objects to life and make them responsive to changing surroundings and needs.
Little Signals is Google’s newest experiment that imagines various shapes of ambient computing devices in the future, designed by London-based studio Map Project Office in collaboration with Google’s Seed Studio.
Six conceptual objects
It employs six conceptual objects, each with its own unique approach to performing the simple act of notification:
- Air interacts with its close surroundings. Pulses of air move nearby items, like the leaves of a plant, to attract attention.
- Button combines scale and sound to communicate and provide control. The top twists – right for more details, left for less – and grows as it receives information. It plays a tone when full.
- Movement features seven pegs that graphically represent information – like a calendar or timer– through their height and motion. The pegs work individually or as a group, and are tapped for simple input.
- Rhythm generates ambient sounds. Qualities of the melody convey qualities of the information, like its importance, urgency, or tone. A wave over the object, or simply turning it over, mutes it.
- Shadow communicates through the movements of the shadow it casts. They show the object’s status, like gently breathing when active or stretching in response to presence.
- Tap makes use of surfaces to create sounds that act as notifications. A stronger tap means more pressing news.
There are efforts underway to develop new ways for users to interact with technology. According to a recently revealed Google patent, the company has been working on a ‘skin interface’ (gesture control via the user’s skin) that could be used in a variety of products, including smartwatches and earbuds.
However, this may be the first time that more methods of the opposite – technology communicating with us – are being tested.
Smart home devices are the most likely to use any of the six modes mentioned above, even if they are not explicitly mentioned.
Although the project is clearly still in its early stages, Google has provided a detailed tutorial on how to build the six devices using Arduino.