AMBIENT COMPUTING

Goals

  • Let me know how to dress up appropriately for the day without checking from electronic devices first
  • System can not expect me to remember to do things

Description

I have a passion towards systems that make life easier. I also feel that as much as possible, technology should become invisible to us and it should be integrated into our daily lives. For the time being, that is partly a utopia, but with the recent advances allow us to create the first primitive testbeds for this with reasonably low costs.

Enter my hobbies in home automation. A private home should be a place where to be at peace and where to relax. Thus, automating home should not increase chores, but free time. To do this, technology needs to be contextual and not to require user to maintain or interact with it.

My first explorations have been with lighting, given how easy accessible the automation systems are. The basics are very simple – change the light bulbs to smart bulbs, create some rules and off you go. This is available to anyone with relatively small amount of extra cash. As a result, light switches become mostly irrelevant.

But… just mostly. And this is why we need test beds in our lives instead of neutral labs. For most parts, this is grand. You walk into living room and the lights turn on, smoothly to their set brightness. This brightness is set to vary depending on the time of the day – at night, it’s nicer to have dimmer lights so that you disturb others too much. If you want to override the lights, just speak to your house and the lights turn to various colors or set different brightnesses as needed.

However, what happens if you sleep in bed with your spouse and you have a baby in a crib few feet from you? All of the sudden, automation becomes that much harder since the simple setup does not deal with the context or modalities. Turns out, we still need a remote control for silent operation. At least for the time being.

Yet, motion sensors are just one input. More advanced exploration comes with bringing information to the situation where it is needed without the user asking. A simple case – do you need to take an umbrella with you when you leave for work in the morning? Do you bother to check the weather to choose the right coat or whether to wear a t-shirt or a turtleneck?

What I ended up exploring with is a light system in my wardrobe that reacts to weather conditions. The moment I open the wardrobe doors, motion sensor turns on the lights, but the color of the light is indicative of temperature and rain. Red hues imply warmth, cool white cold. And if there are blue tones, you better take your umbrella with you – all set by a small server that collects the needed information periodically.

The system reads forecasts for each day, updates to sunrise and sunset hours and communicates if the weather is considered ‘hot’, ‘cold’ or rainy so that I know to prepare for it.

This is the demonstration how I feel technology should work. Without you ever thinking about it or asking for it – just taking it for granted. 

Discussion

Having prototyped the wardrobe and having seen it work, next steps would be to adapt the system to bring attention to items when needed. An umbrella stand will get a glow light that turns on if the day is going to be rainy. A spot light will help you to choose the right coat and shoes by illuminating the right one based on weather.

This is the demonstration how I feel technology should work. Without you ever thinking about it or asking for it – just taking it for granted.