Thursday, March 4, 2010
Empty Gadgetry? Or not.
I search for all kinds of things online at my job, and some of those search strings always seem to land me in the "techie" or "gadget junkie" communities. Sometimes there's revolutionary, cool stuff to look at, other times I'm just amazed at the pointlessness of a device. Today I'm experiencing a bit of both.
This morning Google News threw an article at me about a "new" device that turns any skin surface into a touch pad. The name is "Skinput" which is hilarious. The article writer, Clay Dillow, is a little thankful that some "creative thinkers" at Carnegie Mellon and Microsoft could come up with such a thing, but his suggestions for its use are anything but creative. After explaining the technology, which is actually pretty cool (it even takes measurements of body tissue densities to know precisely where you're tapping...), Dillow's first response is to "question the benefits." But his examples that are supposed to show that the device is cumbersome are all about entertainment and mobile communications! "[If using] my TV remote means I have to don an armband at all times, I’m not sure I’ve gained anything," he comments. Of course, the gadget hounds who are reading about Skinput because they want to use it for all their iPod apps might be turned off by the realization that it works like a remote control, complete with extra hardware you have to carry around and not lose.
Dillow comes back to say that the technology truly is amazing, and could be convenient and useful once it is developed to the point where armbands and other devices are not necessary, and interfaces are projected onto any surface you choose without wires or doohickeys. Sure, this is the kind of thing we've seen in movies for the past fifteen years (or maybe even in the fifties...). Yes, it would be very useful. But is that all this Skinput thing can do?
I've seen projected interfaces in the most humble settings -- my son and I played a game of virtual bubble popping and lily pad jumping that was projected onto the floor of the Old Navy store. This thing used light beams that you interrupt as its sensors (how old fashioned) but the creativity was there at least.
Aside from the video game sorts of possibilties for Skinput, I was thinking that this could be a medically revolutionary device, especially for children or disabled adults. At its most basic it could be an aid at the doctor's office where extra hardware is not an issue ("Tap where it hurts," or "Here's where your tummy is inside you...now poke it and make it digest something!"), and at a more sophisticated level there must be a million possibilities for therapeutic uses. Children with sensory issues, speech disorders, and other disabilties could be Skinput's best benefactees, and their innate, unspoilt creativity could help develop it even further. Except for momming, I'm no child educator so I can't expand on that too much. But I can at least imagine!
Finally, (but not finally, really) even more technologically crazy would be the use of this device as a body map (or something) to aid in surgeries where the surgical assistants have already been traded in for lasers and micro-robotics. If it was just a projected light I wouldn't say this, but the fact that it senses densities, etc, perhaps means this idea isn't so far fetched.
The Skinput article ends with Dillow giving it one last weak push: "If nothing else [nothing? ...really?] it will turn heads on the street when you start scrolling through your apps via your forearm." And we are back to the apps and the turning of other gadget junkies' heads.
One commenter so far suggested a medical use -- lost limb therapy. Brilliant. The rest were excited about virtual joysticks, etc.
Reading things like this just makes me wonder how much real-world imagination (oxymoron? I think not!) the creators of such gadgets have -- hopefully more than their reviewers. I also worry that all the efforts in communication and computer technology these days are being funneled into making apps easier to use and way more interwoven with our lives than they really need to be. Shouldn't technology help the real world? Not just help itself keep proliferating onto and into itself?
Of course, reader, as you may suspect, I had some more risque ideas -- some risque but also psychologically or sexually therapeutic -- for what a Skinput device could do (another angle overlooked by the techies), but I didn't let my imagination run too far in that direction. I'm still at work. It would be inappropriate.