Can Every Object Become an Interface?
Tom Spendlove posted on July 15, 2019 |
Ivan Poupyrev talks about how he's turning the whole world into an interface device.

Ivan Poupyrev says that we haven’t change computer interfaces in fifty years. Mouse and keyboard controls are still the norm, and using a phone just changes the interface to our fingers to perform the function of the keyboard. In his TED Talk Everything around you can become a computer Poupyrev imagines how the world can become our interface instead of computer screens.

Showing three pictures of all the objects that people touched in a twenty four hour period Ivan points out that it’s easy to see what a person enjoys, and also see that their computers and phones are just small portions of an overall life. To create a world where we interact digitally with objects instead of screens three main challenges needed to be solved. The first challenge was the reality of his idea – inspired by cyberpunk media, Poupyrev worked with the idea that the purpose of objects can be changed with new technology and ‘hacking’ into the objects. He developed a sensor to place electric fields into items to transform them into gesture control interfaces. Examples are a doorknob that knows when it’s being touched, and an orchid that communicates through images and sounds.

The next challenge was transferring the ideas from proof of concept prototypes to real products. The apparel industry makes 150 billion new garments every year while the tech industry only creates 1.4 billion new phones – there are many more things than screens being created. Working with tailors Ivan used polyester and cotton fibers with metallic alloys wrapped around them to make connected cloth. Using traditional machines and methods the cloth can be turned into wearables that are tech connected jackets and pants, instead of a traditional smart watch or necklace wearable. The third challenge is scaling the idea up to mass production. Ivan shows off a jacket that can control his cellphone and the presentation on the screen, but never loses the basic functions of a jacket. He dreams of a world with a uniform user experience and a single cloud platform to control devices. Poupyrev and his team developed the Jacquard, a small interface that can be plugged into different devices so that the people who make furniture and clothing can use it as often as they use a button or zipper.

Ivan is a great energetic speaker full of wild ambitious ideas and this talk from May 2019 shows him at the proliferation phase of ideas he’s been working on for twenty years. It’s inspiring to think that in three years we’ve gone from the I don’t Want to Wear a Screen paper presented at the 2016 CHI Conference on Human Factors, to the Commuter X jacket being sold at a Levi’s store.

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