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Future's Toys Here Today

Future's Toys Here Today

By David Hall

Last week saw the latest Siggraph Emerging Technologies exhibition in San Diego, which showcases new and innovative technologies. We had a good old snoop around and bring you three of our favourites (in no particular order).

BYU-BYU: Wind Communication Interface

What is it?
A user-computer interaction where the user can use wind (that’s blowing on the screen, not farting at it) to interact with a virtual environment and communicate by breathing or blowing toward their screens. The name comes from the onomatopoeic Japanese phrase used to describe a howling wind.

How does it work?
The system uses a network of fine mesh screens that let air pass through them, but also form a visual screen where images can be viewed. Sensors that light up when they are blown on can sense the direction and force of the air power applied. Small fans behind the mesh screen can blow air back for a reciprocal airy experience.

Reasons to want one:
It is said to add a tactile element to video communication, according to one of its creators, Masahiro Furukawa. He added, that it could be used to blow out birthday candles on a cake thousands of miles away or play games such as virtual air hockey – using this technology combined with visual images. It also has implications for deaf and blind people or those with limited limb use – as it delivers information directly to the skin.

Microsoft Surface

click to enlarge image
What is it?
A new fully interactive table surface. Ok, sounds a bit dull, but seriously, it’s perfect for restaurants, hotels, bars, shops and even the lounge. Drag and drop starters, drinks or shopping items into the ordering section and your waiter will do the rest.

How does it work?
The diner/drinker/shopper simply uses the interactive surface to drag menu/beverage/item choices to the order point on the table desktop – the food/drink/shoes are then brought straight to your table. You can also pay, tip and leave comments via the tabletop.

Reasons to want one:
Easy to use, can be applied to many table tops, cuts down on time waiting for services – simply touch the table to order an extra drink with your meal, no need for pushy restaurant staff. Perfect – we never need interact with a human being again.

(More information can be found on Microsoft's overly complicated and frustrating MS Surface website)

GlowBots – emotional robots

What is it?
GlowBots are small wheeled robots, about the size of a coffee cup, that develop complex relationships between each other and with their owners. They develop attractive patterns that are affected both by user interaction and communication between the robots.

How does it work?
Each robot is equipped with eight infrared sensors, a camera, microphones, a computer, a bluethooth connection and a stack of LEDs. Each robot has a unique pattern of flashing lights. As the robots mingle they can sense each others’ patterns. When two of them meet, they update their own display to incorporate a bit of what they’ve just ‘seen’. Something similar happens if a person picks up a GlowBot, touches it, or makes a sound into its microphone. The GlowBot can subsequently share with its community what it has sensed.

Reasons to want one:
One: it’s a robot. Two: flashing lights and pretty patterns. Three: they don’t have to be house-trained, groomed or neutered. The project was actually inspired by people who keep unusual and generally unpettable pets, such as snakes and spiders. It is hoped that the GlowBots can appeal to the type of person who doesn’t get too emotionally attached to their pets, preferring to admire their fine patterns from afar.

(More information is available from or you can watch this YouTube video, although we suggest you keep the sound off unless you're particularly keen on electronic dissonance)

If you want to see more of the amazing emerging technologies on show, have a look at: On the other hand you can cop a load of our innovations

- New diet - The Justice Diet
- New solutions - Global warming fixed
- New space fashion - Spandex space suits
- New moves - Robo-Einstein busts a groove

Title image: MS Surface

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11 Feb 2009
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