The 2016 Consumer Electronic Show was held in Las Vegas this week, launching countless new products. Every year, more and more technologies are designed to be “smart,” featuring embedded processors and sensors with communication capability. You name it, we're trying to make it smart—a smart refrigerator, a smart thermostat, a smart wearable, a smart clock, a smart lamp, etc. And a tool developed at MIT's Fluid Interfaces Lab called Reality Editor is aimed at connecting all of these smart objects together.
Most smart objects, says Valentin Heun, project leader and PhD candidate in the Fluid Interfaces Group in the Media Lab, are currently designed to be operated independently. But the real future of smart objects as Huen sees it will allow you to control different objects through one interface and map the functionality to suit each individual’s needs.
For instance, if you decide you would like a stereo system to turn on when you switch on the lights in your kitchen, you can connect and modify them through the Reality Editor. The process is simple. Point your smartphone’s camera at an object and the device appears onscreen for you to manipulate. After loading various physical objects, they can become connected and programmed to function together by drawing connections between them with your finger.
“Imagine the chair that you sit on is actually responsive to the environment,” says Heun. "So if you leave, the environment reacts. And then after you leave, the car that you’re driving home has already started…and it’s connected because you wanted it that way.”
Currently, the technology requires a specific visual code (a piece of material similar to a QR code) to recognize and allow mapping of each object, though Heun told Fast Company that eventually these codes won’t be necessary and the app will be able to identify objects based on color and shape.
The app is currently available for download and can be used in conjunction with the Fluid Interface’s open-source Open Hybrid platform to build your own “hybrid objects.”
James Hobin ’16, a student that worked on the project with Heun for two-and-a-half years, says the most useful aspect of the Reality Editor is that it is straightforward and intuitive. “Nearly all current approaches to the Internet of Things require expert-level knowledge or convoluted setups that alienate people,” says Hobin. “The Reality Editor represents a new democratic vision of connected devices.”
Photos: MIT Fluid Interfaces Group.