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Interface Design for the Smart Environment

Smart environments are currently being developed — such an example is the EasyLiving project at Microsoft Research. In these spaces both occupants and objects are sensed by ubiquitous computing devices embedded within the environment. So, as occupants strive to communicate with their surroundings, interface design becomes critical.

Within the smart environment there may exist a multitude of sensor types. In the EasyLiving paper entitled How a Smart Environment Can Use Perception, cameras, microphones, active badges and pressure sensing floors are all listed as sensing devices. Of course, the list goes on and on as new technology evolves; however, the main overarching goal for all devices is to develop the smart environment to detect both people and objects in “context”.(1)

This idea of sensing “context” means that a given environment can sense what goes on within it to determine an occupant’s given state over time. The smart environment reacts automatically to assist the occupant as certain objectives are targeted. Features like person recognition, person location, person activity and person expression may all be sensed by smart architecture trying to read its occupant’s needs.(1) Additionally, to help with this, objects may be sensed within a given environment as well. Again, objects are sensed in “context” – two methods are object tracking and object recognition.

So, what happens to architectural design as environments become smarter? How will the user interface design of architectural features look and feel? What will happen to interior design and architecture as ubiquitous computing becomes more widespread?

Well, for starters, occupants will begin to communicate with their environments more and more. Occupants will gesture, for example, sending signals to their surroundings. And if occupant expression, gaze and speech can direct environmental features, then architectural design will have more transient states.(1) Thus, the advent of smart architecture brings with it greater potential for a more comprehensive composition of architectural space – including targeting all of an occupant’s senses.

Already, certain new technologies are emerging – such as new objects that can help occupants communicate with their smart environment. The “XWand”, for instance, can be held in different orientations that signal the environment to take action.(1) We are headed toward environments where everyday objects will ultimately take part in the world of ubiquitous computing. Embedded devices will be everywhere and most objects will take part by integrating more subtle and sophisticated design interfaces.

Perception will be two-way — not just from occupant to architecture, but also from architecture to occupant.

Reference:

(1) Krumm, John, et al. How a Smart Environment Can Use Perception. Microsoft Corporation.

Image Credit: © Mypokcik | Dreamstime

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