MIT Media Lab transforms everyday objects with augmented reality

Smarter Objects interface
© Fluid Interfaces Group

In a world that is already well-versed in the usefulness and potential of smartphones, it makes sense that the next logical steps would be to pursue the development of "smarter" things, such as the smart house or appliance, or connected objects that can communicate via an Internet of Things, in order to add functionality to everyday objects.

But sometimes the solution becomes the problem, and almost every one of those smart objects requires its own interface, and maybe an app, in order to operate them, with the actual tangible controls on them (the buttons or dials) being not nearly as smart as they could be.

In other words, a potential pitfall of the smart object trend is that while we as users may want a lot of options and settings on our gadgets, we don't always want to be swiping through screens on each one of those items in order to change the settings. And because most of the hardwired buttons on them are not reprogrammable (at least by the average person), we're kind of locked in to using those types of interfaces for making any changes to the device's functionality.

However, a project from the MIT Media Lab Fluid Interfaces Group is working toward a new type of system, one that could enable every physical object to become smarter, by allowing users to easily understand and program their objects through an augmented reality-based interface.

"The Smarter Objects system explores a new method for interaction with everyday objects. The system associates a virtual object with every physical object to support an easy means of modifying the interface and the behavior of that physical object as well as its interactions with other "smarter objects". As a user points a smart phone or tablet at a physical object, an augmented reality (AR) application recognizes the object and offers an intuitive graphical interface to program the object's behavior and interactions with other objects.

Once reprogrammed, the Smarter Object can then be operated with a simple tangible interface (such as knobs, buttons, etc). As such Smarter Objects combine the adaptability of digital objects with the simple tangible interface of a physical object. We have implemented several Smarter Objects and usage scenarios demonstrating the potential of this approach." - Fluid Interfaces Group

This video shows the concept at work:

The team at MIT, Valentin Heun, Shunichi Kasahara, and Pattie Maes, have published their work-in-progress on the project as a PDF on their site, which explains more about the how and the why behind Smarter Objects.

This idea of enabling more smart objects around us, and increasing their options for functionality, while keeping an intuitive and familiar physical control system (the dials) on the object itself, hints at a world of possibilities for more robust personalization and interconnection in our devices. While this concept alone is not necessarily a clean or green tech idea, it very well could be another key piece in getting to higher efficiencies and less waste in our energy use at home or work offices.

What do you think? Is this method of enabling smarter physical objects appealing or useful, or just more technowizardry for its own sake?

MIT Media Lab transforms everyday objects with augmented reality
By enabling our everyday physical objects to become "smarter", this project could radically transform how we use and interact with our things.

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