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Design to reflect human values

The O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Martin Charlier on industrial and interaction design, reflecting societal values, and unified visions.

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Editor’s note: Martin Charlier will present a session, Prototyping User Experiences for Connected Products, at the O’Reilly Solid Conference, June 23 to 25, 2015, in San Francisco. For more on the program and information on registration, visit the Solid website.

Designing for the Internet of Things is requiring designers and engineers to expand the boundaries of their traditionally defined roles. In this Radar Podcast episode, O’Reilly’s Mary Treseler sat down with Martin Charlier, an independent design consultant and co-founder at Rain Cloud, to discuss the future of interfaces and the increasing need to merge industrial and interaction design in era of the Internet of Things.

Charlier stressed the importance of embracing the symbiotic nature of interaction design and service design:

“How I got into Internet of Things is interesting. My degree from Ravensbourne was in a very progressive design course that looked at product interaction and service design as one course. For us, it was pretty natural to think of product or services in a very open way. Whether they are connected or not connected didn’t really matter too much because it was basically understanding that technology is there to build almost anything. It’s really about how you design with that mind.

“When I was working in industrial design, it became really clear for me how important that is. Specifically, I remember one project working on a built-in oven … In this project, we specifically couldn’t change how you would interact with it. The user interface was already defined, and our task was to define how it looked. It became clear to me that I don’t want to exclude any one area, and it feels really unnatural to design a product but only worry about what it looks like and let somebody else worry about how it’s operated, or vice versa. Products in today’s world, especially, need to be thought about from all of these angles. You can’t really design a coffee maker anymore without thinking about the service that it might plug into or the systems that it connects to. You have to think about all of these things at the same time.”

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Designing a future of immersive, tangible interaction

A look into a future in which physical and digital converge.

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt by Stephen P. Anderson from our recent book Designing for Emerging Technologies, a collection of works by several authors, curated and edited by Jon Follett. This excerpt is included in our curated collection of chapters from the O’Reilly Design library. Download a free copy of the Designing for the Internet of Things ebook here.

In the opening scenes of the Superman movie Man of Steel, one of the many pieces of Kryptonian technology we see are communication devices whose form and shape is constantly reshaping — a tangible, monochromatic hologram, if you will. Imagine thousands of tiny metal beads moving and reshaping as needed. Even though this makes for a nice bit of sci-fi eye candy, it’s also technology that MIT’s Tangible Media Group, led by professor Hiroshi Ishii, is currently exploring. In their own words, this work “explores the ‘Tangible Bits’ vision to seamlessly couple the dual world of bits and atoms by giving physical form to digital information.” They are creating objects (the “tangible bits”) that can change shape.

Even though the team’s vision of “radical atoms” is still in the realm of the hypothetical, the steps they are taking to get there are no less inspiring. Their latest example of tangible bits is a table that can render 3D content physically, so users can interact with digital information in a tangible way. In one of their video demonstrations, a remote participant in a video conference moves his hands, and in doing so reshapes the surface of a table, rolling a ball around. The technology is at once both awe-inspiring and crude; the wooden pegs moving up and down to define form aren’t that unlike the pin art toys we see marketed to children. Having said that, it’s easy to imagine something like this improving in fidelity over time, in the same way that the early days of monochromatic 8-bit pixels gave way to retina displays and photorealistic images. Read more…

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Five things to consider before offering new technology as a cloud service

Entrepreneurs must apply the same decision-making processes used when starting any infrastructure company.

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Editor’s note: Shahin Farshchi will cover these topics and more in an upcoming free webcast, Building Value Into Hardware Start-ups, on March 19 at 1 p.m. PT. Find out more, and reserve your spot.

There are many compelling reasons to package new technology as a cloud service. Connected devices come in many forms: dongles, phones, tablets, televisions, cars, and even buildings. Intel is offering “connected buttons,” and others are introducing connected jewelry and accessories. Internet connectivity is also available through many channels: satellite, cellular, WiFi, bluetooth, and hybrid meshes. The plethora of powerful, beautiful connected devices, coupled with ubiquitous connectivity, creates an incredible channel for delivering novel services.

Hotmail, Salesforce, Workday, and many other software-as-a-service companies have fared well by offering their applications directly through Internet browsers. DropBox and Box, while creating tremendous media attention, have yet to prove they can offer storage services profitably on the cloud. Amazon doesn’t disclose the economics of its Amazon Web Services business in detail, though one would expect the opposite to be true if it were a lucrative business. ASICMiner and KNCMiner are leveraging their proprietary hashing chips to offer bitcoin mining as a service. Nervana is leveraging its proprietary chips as a service for deep learning. As more entrepreneurs attempt to harness the cloud as a powerful distribution channel for their novel technologies, here are a few factors to consider. Read more…

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The Intimacy of Things

At what layer do we build privacy into the fabric of devices?

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Editor’s note: This is part of a series of posts exploring privacy and security issues in the Internet of Things. The series will culminate in a free webcast by the series author Dr. Gilad Rosner: Privacy and Security Issues in the Internet of Things will happen on February 11, 2015 — reserve your spot today.

In 2011, Kashmir Hill, Gizmodo and others alerted us to a privacy gaffe made by Fitbit, a company that makes small devices to help people keep track of their fitness activities. It turns out that Fitbit broadcast the sexual activity of quite a few of their users. Realizing this might not sit well with those users, Fitbit took swift action to remove the search hits, the data, and the identities of those affected. Fitbit, like many other companies, believed that all the data they gathered should be public by default. Oops.

Does anyone think this is the last time such a thing will happen?

Fitness data qualifies as “personal,” but sexual data is clearly in the realm of the “intimate.” It might seem like semantics, but the difference is likely to be felt by people in varying degrees. The theory of contextual integrity says that we feel violations of our privacy when informational contexts are unexpectedly or undesirably crossed. Publicizing my latest workout: good. Publicizing when I’m in flagrante delicto: bad. This episode neatly exemplifies how devices are entering spaces where they’ve not tread before, physically and informationally. Read more…

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A bigger and different way of looking at the IoT

Tim O’Reilly’s Solid Conference keynote highlights the capabilities that will let us shape the physical world.

Tim O’Reilly has recently focused on the connection between humans and the Internet of Things (IoT). It’s a topic he’s written about and talked about, and it’s also at the heart of our explorations into interaction design and connected devices and experience design and the Internet of Things.

O’Reilly’s keynote address at the Solid Conference in 2014 explored the human-IoT link. The talk expanded the scope of the IoT, making it clear this isn’t just about individual devices and software — we’re creating “networks of intelligence” that will shape how people work and live.

The talk has become an essential resource for us as we’ve investigated the blurring of the physical and virtual worlds. That’s why we decided to put together a text-friendly version of the presentation that’s easy to scan and reference. And since we think it’s so useful, we’ve made the text version publicly available.

You can download your free copy of “Software Above the Level of a Single Device: The Implications” here. Read more…

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There is room for global thinking in IoT data privacy matters

The best of European and American data privacy initiatives can come together for the betterment of all.

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of posts exploring privacy and security issues in the Internet of Things. The series will culminate in a free webcast by the series author Dr. Gilad Rosner: Privacy and Security Issues in the Internet of Things will happen on February 11, 2015 — reserve your spot today.

Please_Josh_Hallett_FlickrAs devices become more intelligent and networked, the makers and vendors of those devices gain access to greater amounts of personal data. In the extreme case of the washing machine, the kind of data — who uses cold versus warm water — is of little importance. But when the device collects biophysical information, location data, movement patterns, and other sensitive information, data collectors have both greater risk and responsibility in safeguarding it. The advantages of every company becoming a software company — enhanced customer analytics, streamlined processes, improved view of resources and impact — will be accompanied by new privacy challenges.

A key question emerges from the increasing intelligence of and monitoring by devices: will the commercial practices that evolved in the web be transferred to the Internet of Things? The amount of control users have over data about them is limited. The ubiquitous end-user license agreement tells people what will and won’t happen to their data, but there is little choice. In most situations, you can either consent to have your data used or you can take a hike. We do not get to pick and choose how our data is used, except in some blunt cases where you can opt out of certain activities (which is often a condition forced by regulators). If you don’t like how your data will be used, you can simply elect not to use the service. But what of the emerging world of ubiquitous sensors and physical devices? Will such a take-it-or-leave it attitude prevail? Read more…

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