The Human-World Interface
A classic example of humans missing out on environmental information is the way that bees can see ultra-violet light. Invisible to us, UV light is used by flowers to better attract Bees and other UV-sensitive insects to the center of its flowers where pollen is stored.
As you can see in the above images of the same type of flower, the UV image (right) appears as a "bullseye" for bees, which helps to guarantee consistent pollination of flowers.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Think of all the other information that is unavailable to us, that novel sensors might make visible. A sensor technology called X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) is making the composition of any material visible where it was hidden before.
Niton, a leading maker of this technology has developed handheld tricorder-style devices that can determine the elemental composition of metals, soil, paint, and rock in only a few seconds of scanning. X-Rays beamed at the sample are scattered, absorbed, and re-emitted in characteristic patterns, which the device then uses to display the composition of the sample.
Imagine what this might be used to do if incorporated into video games like barcodes were in the Scannerz games from a couple years ago. Or in something entirely new, like a trash management system finally capable of sorting garbage into different recyclable varieties.
Even more interesting are the novel methods for getting information into people's consciousnesses. Right now, technologies like Google Maps are enabling users to quickly pull up data about geographic and directional information that would be hidden otherwise. But researchers at Japan's NTT Communications Science Labs are working on a prototype control system which could give you direct "nudge" input from a virtual direction database.
Using a mild electric current to interfere with your equilibrium, the device "steers" you in the direction that the controller desires. While they are interested in its use for gaming, if it gained high enough fidelity, the possibilities for directed tours, interactive maps, and other rich information experiences in the real world are intriguing.
The common thread between these devices, and the new products which will dominate in our information saturated world is simple to see, but challenging to implement: Design must be about enabling humans to reach beyond their current senses to build more full, powerful, and meaningful interactions with real world data and objects.
Copyright 2004-2006 Dominic Muren and IDFuel Team