As the physical world becomes increasingly connected and blends with the virtual world, technology is being freed up from multi-usage equipment. Will computing interfaces one day simply disappear?

RoomE: The Room Becomes an Interface in its Own Right

“The future of the computer is to essentially make it disappear – a disconnected interface, so the house or the office or the building or the city is the computer,” says Mark Rolston, Chief Creative Officer at global innovation firm Frog Design. The company, which specialises in creative design, has been trying out ‘ubiquitous computing’ in a lecture room, dubbed RoomE, where objects obey orders given by a person verbally or by using gestures, without having to get out his/her smartphone. The idea behind the project is to free up digital technologies from rectangular devices such as tablets and portable computers and actually integrate them into the physical environment.

All the world’s a…screen

The room is equipped with voice and movement sensors and a series of smart lightbulbs that can interpret human language and gestures and act as projectors which transform any surface into a screen. The system is able to detect the presence and whereabouts of people in the room. When a command is sent, RoomE work out where exactly the command has come from and puts the information in context so that the results can be displayed in the most suitable place for that particular user. The room occupants can order takeaway food, change the temperature on the thermostat and turn on a light with basic voice commands or a simple gesture. While Google’s smart glasses place a screen between the human eye and the world, RoomE actually transforms the world itself into a screen.

Information comes before computerisation

RoomE is not the first attempt to dissolve the computer interface. In late 2009, Pranav Mistry, founder of the revolutionary SixthSense project, succeeded in transforming a piece of paper into a digital tablet, and using his hands as a camera to take photos. There is a common thread running through all these projects. The virtual world is brought into the real world in order to send the information where it is needed, without the intermediary support of an extra piece of equipment. “Computing will increasingly become secondary to information,” predicts Pranav Mistry, “because what users are interested in is finding information in real time.” His project, now in open source, has attracted the attention of the French company Valtech. “This technology is proving particularly promising for digital marketing because by using pico-projectors it enables consumers to obtain multimedia information on products intuitively, without having to use their smartphones,” underlined Valtech’s Operational Director, Hervé Desaunois.