8 Intriguing User Interface Designs from the MIT Media Lab

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To see what lies ahead in the coming years for user interfaces, some of my colleagues at PwC recently visited the MIT Media Lab. The researchers behind the “Fluid Interfaces” project are toiling away on dozens of intriguing prototypes that leverage breakthrough technologies such as gestures, haptics, wearable computing, 3D, projection, and data visualization, to name a few.

While some of the user interface designs are useful but not necessarily transformative, such as the digital sticky note, others have the potential to change industries as we know them, such as the Augmented Product Counter that will merge brick-and-mortar and online shopping experiences. Many of the designs fuse the physical and digital worlds of the user to create a new dimension of engagement. If these designs manifest in the marketplace, users will experience an unprecedented level of intimacy and integration with the information and technology in their day-to-day lives.

To give you a glance into the future of user interfaces, following is a snapshot of a few of the MIT Media Lab designs:

Computerizing the World
With SixthSense, users wear a projector and camera around their neck in the form of a pendant that displays information about the world around them. Users can use hand gestures, arm movements or the object in sight to interact with the information being projected. The Fluid researchers contend that “SixthSense makes the entire world your computer.”

Merging Online and Brick-and-Mortar Shopping
The Augmented Product Counter uses augmented reality to transform any surface or object into an interactive surface. Soon customers will be able to research the reviews and pricing of products while they physically interact with the samples in the store. Merging online and brick-and-mortar shopping experiences has the potential to change shopping as we know it. CIOs in the retail sector should take note.

Writing in Space
Inktuitive is an “intuitive physical design workspace” that melds conventional design tools such as paper and pencil with the digital world. Imagine an architect sketching a blueprint of a building on paper while the design is instantly captured and translated into digital form.

Stitching Together a Seamless Picture with PalimPost
PalimPost gathers contextual cues from a user’s physical environment and activities, connects them to the user’s digital world research, and subsequently presents to the user a complete, categorized picture of information about the day’s happenings. Whether the user is writing down a shopping list on a sticky note after surfing the internet at home, or checking out hundreds of products on hand in a physical store, whether a user is preparing a list of dinner ingredients in the kitchen or buying food outside in the market, PalimPost integrates information from different times and locations to form a seamlessly connected experience for the user.

Shining Light on a Subject
The LuminAR project literally shines light on a subject. Bulbs and desk lamps are fitted with a Pico-projector, camera and wireless computer to connect with laptops, mobile phones and other devices to beam information onto surfaces and objects in a room. This “self-contained unit” leverages lighting in a radical new way.

Merging Man and Machine?
Imagine using your physical body to copy and paste data. It’s possible with the touch-based user interface of SPARSH. A user touches a data item to be copied from a device, conceptually saving the item in his or her body. Then, the user touches the other device to which he or she wants to paste/pass the saved content. While it might seem like science fiction where man is merged with machine, the actual transfer of media happens via the information cloud.

Visualizing Collaboration
MemTable is a smart tabletop that increases the productivity of small groups. It has a contextual memory that records meetings, processes documents and provides visualization of group work patterns. With MemTable, groups can collaborate more effectively and reflect on their work more profoundly.

Making the Sticky Note Smart
Quickies bring one of the most useful inventions of the 20th century into the digital age: the ubiquitous sticky note. Quickies link hand-written sticky notes with mobile phones, digital calendars, task-lists, email and instant messaging clients. The project uses artificial intelligence (AI), natural language processing (NLP), RFID and ink-recognition technologies to create intelligent sticky notes that can be searched, located, send reminders and messages, and more broadly, can act as an I/O interface to the digital information world.

After hearing about what the folks at the MIT Media Lab are dreaming up, I am hopeful that the future of user interfaces will provide CIOs with ample opportunity to innovate in and out of the enterprise. How do you envision CIOs leveraging these technologies in the coming years?

Image shared by SGT Pablo Piedra

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