Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Chameleon Device

The functions of previously separate gadgets like cameras, phones, and music players have come together into single devices in recent years. But juggling all of those functions in one product with multiple personalities is not simple, and confusing interfaces plague many big-selling gadgets.
But a new prototype that is able to predict what function its user wants from the way it is manipulated, shows a more intuitive way to tackle the problem.
A basic version of this concept is already built into a handful of portable gadgets. Some smartphones automatically dim the screen when they sense they have been swung against a person's ear during a call.

They have created a "bar of soap" device, with an LCD screen front and rear. It contains a three-axis accelerometer to measure its motion in 3D, and 72 sensors across its surface to track the position of the user's fingers.

The researchers tested their prototype on 13 users who were asked to pick up several times, holding it each time in turn as if it were a remote control, PDA, camera, games controller, or mobile phone. By analysing the output from the sensors, the team spotted patterns in the way the different users held the gadget, and their grip gave clues about how they expected the device to perform (see image, right).
Those results were used to program the soap bar to guess what was expected of it and respond appropriately by presenting an interface tailored for that function – when held as a camera, the LCD screens display a camera mode.