Building Intelligent Environments With Smart-Its
Smart-Its are small context-aware computers that can be attached to everyday objects. If you need a coffee-cup that knows if it is full or empty, a table that tracks the objects on it, or a wine bottle that can tell if it has been stored correctly, attach a Smart-It!
This technology is a prototyping platform that allows designers and researchers to construct responsive or "intelligent" environments with comparably little overhead. Typically, in research projects developing "smart" or context-aware objects, it is necessary to build a lot of custom hardware and software from scratch. There are still no similar toolkits for building this kind of context-aware applications, or even any rapid prototyping tools that can be used to quickly get early test applications up and running. Smart-Its address this by presenting a standardized hardware solution, coupled with communication and sensing APIs. This allows for rapid prototyping of advanced interactive applications in a way that has never previously been possible.
Apart from being innovative in its own right, the Smart-Its technology also makes it possible to demonstrate a number of advanced concepts and interactive techniques that are highly relevant for the SIGGRAPH audience. Future interactive systems will require a multitude of sensors and distributed computation. Wth Smart-Its, it is possible to explore such systems today.
This type of interactive technology is becoming more and more important, both from a commercial and a scientific point of view. A multitude of "smart" consumer products that use sensors and communication in various ways are already in development at research labs all over the world. It is only a question of time before they enter the commercial mainstream. Of course, several advances are required before this kind of technology can easily be embedded in everyday objects: size and cost must decrease; power consumption must become significantly lower; application development must be made easier through standardized tools; communication protocols and semantics must be adopted so that different artifacts can share data; etc. As an enabling platform, Smart-Its allow us to investigate these important issues and get a glimpse of the "intelligent" environments of the future.
The long-term goal of the Smart-Its project is to provide a platform that can be used by developers and researchers to explore advanced interactive techniques and context-aware applications with much less overhead than currently required. As the Smart-Its hardware and software stabilizes, it should eventually be as easy to use as graphic-user-interface toolkits for desktop computers are today. When the technology reaches this stage, there will be an explosion of new innovations, just as fast graphics and GUI toolkits have enabled a multitude of new interactive applications for desktop PCs in the last decade. The Smart-Its team is gradually releasing all information about building and using this technology into the public domain so that others can apply the work.
Lars Erik Holmquist
Future Applications Lab, Viktoria Institute