Google ambient computing objects deliver ‘calm’ notifications

Google ambient computing objects deliver ‘calm’ notifications

Technology News |
By Rich Pell

Developed as part of the company’s research in ambient computing, the six objects in the Little Signals “interaction experiments” make use of different sensorial cues to subtly signal for attention when delivering notification signals from users’ various devices. The objects, say the researchers, “keep us in the loop, but softly, moving from the background to the foreground as needed.”

“Many everyday objects find subtle ways to inform us – from the moving hands of a clock to the whistle of a kettle,” say the researchers. “Little Signals continues that theme and explores how we might stay up-to-date with digital information while maintaining moments of calm.”

The devices are designed to be placed at different locations in a given environment that are suited to an individual user. And each device has been designed to deliver notification signals in different and gentle ways:

  • “Air” interacts with its close surroundings and uses pulses of air to move nearby items, like leaves on a plant, to attract attention.
  • “Button” combines scale and sound to communicate and provide control. Its top twists right or left for more or less details and rises in height as it receives information. The object plays a tone when full.
  • “Movement” features seven pegs that graphically represent information (like a calendar or timer) through their height and motion. The pegs work individually or as a group and are tapped for simple input
  • “Rhythm” generates ambient sounds, the melody characteristics of which convey qualities of the information such as its importance, urgency, or tone. A wave over the object, or turning it over, mutes it.
  • “Shadow” communicates through the movement of the shadows it casts. They show the object’s status, like gently breathing when active or stretching in response to presence.
  • “Tap” makes use of surfaces to create sounds that act as notifications. A stronger tap means more pressing news.

Instructions and 3D files are provided for users who are interested in building their own versions of the objects, which are Arduino based and use off-the-shelf hardware.

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