How virtual reality can make the real world a better place

Can VR become “the ultimate empathy machine?”

Early_flight_02561u_(2)Virtual reality (VR) can make the impossible possible — the rules of physical reality need no longer apply. In VR, you strap on a special headset and leave the real world behind to enter a virtual one. You can fly like a bird high above Manhattan, or experience the feeling of weightlessness as an astronaut on a spaceship.

VR is reliant upon the illusion of being deeply engrossed in another space and time, far away from your current reality. In a split second you can travel to exotic locales or be on stage at a concert with your favourite musician. Gaming and entertainment are natural fits for VR experiences. A startup called The Void plans to open a set of immersive virtual reality theme parks called Virtual Entertainment Centers, with the first one opening in Pleasant Grove, Utah by June 2016.

This is an exciting time for developers and designers to be defining VR as a new experience medium. However, as the technology improves and consumer hardware and content become available in VR, we must ask: how can this new technology be applied to benefit humanity?

As it turns out, this question is being explored on a few early fronts. For example, SnowWorld, developed at the University of Washington Human Interface Technology (HIT) Lab in 1996 by Hunter Hoffman and David Patterson, was the first immersive VR world designed to reduce pain in adults and children. SnowWorld was specifically developed to help burn patients during wound care. Read more…


Buddy Michini on commercial drones

The O’Reilly Solid Podcast: Drone safety, trust, and real-time data analysis.


Subscribe to the O’Reilly Solid Podcast for insight and analysis about the Internet of Things and the worlds of hardware, software, and manufacturing.

In our new episode of the Solid Podcast, we talk with Buddy Michini, CTO of Airware, which makes a platform for commercial drones. We cover some potentially game-changing research in localization and mapping, and onboard computational abilities that might eventually make it possible for drones to improve their flight intelligence by analyzing their imagery in real time.

Among the general public, the best-understood use case for drones is package delivery, which obscures many other promising applications (and perhaps threatens to become the Internet-connected refrigerator of autonomous aircraft). There’s also widespread (and understandable) fear of drones. “We need to make drones do things to improve our lives and our world,” Buddy says. “That will get people to accept drones into their lives a little bit more.” Read more…


Jim Stogdill on cloud-based typewriters and smart watches

The O’Reilly Solid Podcast: Distractions, wearables, and reference peanut butter.


Subscribe to the O’Reilly Solid Podcast for insight and analysis about the Internet of Things and the worlds of hardware, software, and manufacturing.

In this episode of the Solid Podcast, David Cranor and I talk with Jim Stogdill, one of the key figures behind the launch of our Solid conference, about some of the cool pieces of hardware that we’ve come across recently.

Stogdill starts off with the Hemingwrite, an ultra-simplified Internet-connected typewriter for writers who need to isolate themselves from distraction. It duplicates, at significant expense and austerity, a small part of any modern computer’s functionality. The Hemingwrite’s existence — along with that of its oversubscribed Kickstarter campaign — demonstrates the new economics of hardware: development costs have fallen enough that clever entrepreneurs can isolate and solve niche consumer problems like needing a browserless computer because you sometimes don’t want to be distracted by your browsered computer. Also, I’d like one. Read more…


No, the IoT does not need strong privacy and security to flourish

The Internet of Things will happily march along with lousy privacy and security, and we will be the poorer for it.

Get notified when our free report “Privacy and Security in the Internet of Things,” by Gilad Rosner, becomes available.

padlock-322494_1280“Without addressing privacy and trust, the Internet of Things will not reach its full potential.”

This refrain can be heard at IoT conferences, in opinion pieces in the press and in normative academic literature. If we don’t  “get it right,” then consumers won’t embrace the IoT and all of the wonderful commercial and societal benefits it portends.

This is false.

It’s a nice idea, imagining that concern for privacy and security will curtail or slow technological growth. But don’t believe it: the Internet of Things will develop whether or not privacy and security are addressed. Economic imperative and technology evolution will impel the IoT and its tremendous potential for increased monitoring forward, but citizen concern plays a minor role in operationalizing privacy. Certainly, popular discourse on the subject is important, but developers, designers, policy-makers and manufacturers are the key actors in embedding privacy architectures within new connected devices. Read more…


The validated learning process for building a hardware startup

How to validate your idea, and get your community engaged.

Buy “The Hardware Startup: Building Your Product, Business, and Brand,” by Renee DiResta, Brady Forrest, and Ryan Vinyard. Note: this post is an excerpt from the book.

puzzle-696725Hardware founders should strive for hypothesis-driven development and validate their ideas with customers as early as possible. This can be done before or alongside the prototyping process, but it should absolutely be done before moving toward tooling.

Changing your design or switching technologies becomes much more expensive once you’ve moved beyond a prototype, so it’s important to get it right the first time.

The foundation of effective validated learning is conversation. You want to talk to — and, more importantly, listen to — several distinct groups of people who will be critical to your success as a company.

Your fellow hardwarians

The first group of helpers on the road to building your product are fellow hardware founders. Not everyone within the hardware community is a potential customer who will help you unearth the roots of a particular pain point. But within this community are the people who have done it before. They have extensive experience and can provide invaluable guidance for specific problems. They’ll help you reduce waste in the production process. Certain steps in the development process, such as finding a contract manufacturer, are often driven by word-of-mouth referrals. Networking with other founders building products in your space will give you a better chance of getting these things right the first time. Read more…


Understanding the experience design of consumer IoT products

Great UX for IoT requires cross-discipline collaboration between design, technology, and business.

Download a free copy of our new report “User Experience Design for the Internet of Things,” by Claire Rowland, to learn about a framework for understanding the UX of consumer IoT products. Note: this post is an excerpt from the report.

Trapeze_artists_1890When we think of design for connected products, we tend to focus on the most visible and tangible elements. These are the industrial design of connected devices, and the user interfaces (UIs) found in mobile and Web apps and on the devices themselves.

They are important concerns, which have a major impact on the end user’s experience of the product. But they’re only part of the picture. You could create a beautiful UI, and a stunning piece of hardware, and users could still have a poor experience of the product as a whole.

Designing for IoT is inherently more complex than Web service design. Some of this is to do with the current state of the technology. Some of this reflects our as-yet immature understanding of compelling consumer IoT value propositions. Some of this stems from the fact that there are more aspects of design to consider. Tackling them independently creates an incoherent user experience (UX).

Designing a great connected product requires a holistic approach to user experience. It spans many layers of design, not all them immediately visible. More than ever, it requires cross-discipline collaboration between design, technology, and business. Great UX may start with understanding users. But the designer’s ability to meet those users’ needs depends on the technology enablers, business models, and wider service ecosystem. Read more…