Recently, a client of mine received a package in the mail from her health insurance provider. The package contained a digital watch with the ability to monitor the number of calories burned in the course of a day.
In her eyes the decision to mail her a watch was paternalistic and overbearing. Her Body Mass Index was one point over the limit for what qualified as a “healthy” figure (pun intended) – thus she and her husband got “health watches.” Whoever devised this program at her insurance company must’ve felt very clever: they are keeping their policy holders healthy by providing them with something to track their fitness.
This incident reminded me of a device that uses a simple technology to track an individual’s weight. The Weight Recorder uses a pencil and a rotating paper disc to track weight over time. This elegant design allows for a lot of flexibility. As designer Wu Weiche puts it:
The scale makes a mark without any statistical number every time when you using it. After a while, then you can read the data that the scale has made, then you can see how it changes in a graphic way.
Wu’s scale stands in stark contrast to the insurance company’s cheaply made electronic watch. The latter product sends a loud-and-clear message: “lose weight or pay more for your insurance!” while the Weight Recorder does not even use numbers – it’s goal is to tell the story of how a body has changed over a long period of time.
The Weight Recorder is a product that aims high: it acts as a testament to the user’s desire to shed pounds or as a record of other events that happened in the course of the user’s life. Imagine a world where your medical care provider wanted to know the story of your life to better understand your health. As far as I’m concerned, that sounds like the kind of careful thought that I would want.
In 2009, Avatar was hailed as the dawn of a new age in digital media for its use of three dimensional filming. The beautiful graphics and surrounding world were compelling in a way that science fiction hadn’t been in decades.
In the following years, a flood of new movies were shot in 3D (or re-touched so they can be called “3D”, I’m looking at you Star Wars). In spite of the massive budgets spent on the graphics, these movies have sound that is still effectively one dimensional.
Without visual cues, humans can use sound to locate events within earshot. Many street crossings use a ping to alert blind pedestrians about the location of the crosswalk. The Marvel comic book superhero Daredevil famously used his keen sense of hearing to fight crime in New York City.
Edgar Choueiri and a team of researchers at Princeton are working to make directional (aka three dimensional) sound a part of our daily lives. He can explain it better in the video below:
I find the example of people in a conference room compelling. A colleague of mine had a hearing imparment and often found it very difficult to track the flow of conversation when three or more people were talking in seemingly random order. One potential application of the technology that Edgar Choueiri and his team are developing is to improve hearing aids, which currently do not provide their wearers with any directional cues.
I presented at Ignite Ann Arbor on November 6, 2011. A video of my presentation is above.
Ignite is a live presentation format where speakers get five minutes to share their thoughts while their presentation goes on behind them. Each speaker gets 20 slides which automatically advance every 15 seconds, no exceptions.
The topic of how humans manage to survive in cold places fascinates me. I intend to explore some aspects of this idea in greater depth on this website.
You can check out some of the other presentations from Ignite Ann Arbor 6, or others from around the world at Ignite Show.