Doing a workshop at SXSW

It cannot be denied that there is a kind of prestige in doing a session at SXSW. Not only because of the procedures and the popularity to send in proposals, leading to a small chance, but more because SXSW is one of the most well-known conferences in our field and it has the name to be the perfect thermometer what topics will be hot the years after. Sometimes that could be apps that change a piece of our behaviour like Twitter did and Foursquare, but more often just the themes that are hot.

So this year my proposal was selected. The topic on adaptive interactions and an internet of touch got more traction than the more generic internet of things, it turns out. It is not the first time I did this session the last year, starting at Vodafone Firestarters back in February 2015, after that atThingscon Berlin, Hack the Visual in London, Thingscon Amsterdam, and a couple of presentations. The subject remains interesting the coming time. For those who missed this session in Austin, we will do another edition at the first Thingscon Salon at April 1. With the presence of both Gijs Huismanand Aduen Darriba Frederiks, the researchers of social mediated touch and new touch garments.

My drive for the haptic interactions is mainly found in the believe this can work very well as a design material in the in the new reality where things and digital become one and we get new experiences of our real world. It is a very suitable way to communicate data from the cloud to human feelings and it strengthen the experience. This is one part of the presentation I give during the workshop. I use this example of a project of James Bridle as an extreme way to make your context tangible.

In the workshop at SXSW I started with some backgrounds on how touch works and the results from the research by Gijs Huisman. This is very insightful, also to experience yourself how to communicate feelings to someone else. We did a little exercise as designed by Gijs that I will not explain in detail in case you will attend the workshop next time.

After the research part we dived into the reasons why it is interesting as a design material, the broader context and relation with the internet of things. Things get rapidly connected to the internet, the next phase will be more about the second skin experience. Digital will be part of the self. This is even more relevant with the rise of the Artificial Intelligence as described in my last post on BigAI. Digital will live as a partner species in realising our needs. Haptics connects the digital and physical layer.

To experience the power of haptics as design material, we did a little design assignment in groups. Every group had a kit to try the vibrations. We provided a case and customer journey of Lyft ride sharing to let the attendees think on the ways haptic can work to help a better experience. The value of the assignment is in the discussion in the groups. Thinking on a concrete case make you dive deep in the possibilities. We had 8 groups that created all their own view on the topic. See the sketches below.

It was interesting to see that a couple of groups actively start creating a language for haptics. The cluttering of haptic feedback was also a theme with some of the groups. The conclusion was that it is a very strong way to focus and amplify certain decision moments in a flow.

We concluded the session with a presentation on some design thinking principles for wearables and in particular haptic interactions. On the shift from the app model to the moment based interactions, and the move to adaptive products and services and how to design rule-based interactions. In haptics is were the conversational UI and the internet of things meet. Creating feedback loops that you can feel fits the more interesting dialogues you can have in the new services. The workshop aimed to let people experience exactly that possibilities.

BigAI, the new promise of SXSW 2016

This edition of SXSW was a bit different for me compared to the three before. I did a workshop in the program for a starter. That meant that I had to prepare stuff together with the team (René and Won), so I missed listening to talks on Monday. I also had some deadlines. All and all I have the feeling I saw less talks this edition.

Still there were enough interesting content and insights. Or reflections on things you are busy with yourself, that was mainly the case. But before diving into that part, a couple of general things I noticed.

I think I discovered last year for the first time the power of the tradeshow. Now again, lots of inspiration could be found there. Too bad I did not do a full round, but I did visit SXCreate in Palm Event Center the first day and that was very interesting. For the feel, but also for a couple of interesting projects such as the the Parihug. A bear with haptic sensors and actuators that can transport the hugs over a distance. This is exactly what our workshop was about; social mediated touch. It was good to hear Dan Steingart from Princeton University claiming that haptics, notifications are the killer function for wearables. Not from yourself but on a distance.
More on that topic in a separate post.

Also on SXCreate was the production version of Jibo. That is assistent for you home like for instance Amazon Echo is, but is has some emotional interactions build in and also uses voice and face recognition. It worked very well in being a nice companion. And it is an platform with an SDK where you can create your own services using the communications tools that are provided. Could be very powerful.

It was one of the questions I had before SXSW; are we going to see the product as a platform for software as an important trend? This was not so ubiquitous present. In one talk of Brady Forrest on the hardware startup it was clearly touched. And in one of the better fashion panels you see that this is important approach for companies like VF (ao Vans, Northface, Timberland). I expect this will be something to expect for the next year to become bigger. As one of the speakers in the conversational UI panel predicts: In 10 years we do not carry a mobile phone. Access the internet will be via the conversation with the services.

It is a natural successor of the big trend this year: AI (artificial intelligence) and robots. Especially the AI was everywhere. It is clearly a new driving force for other areas. From media to products, in the conversational UI, also a hot topic. And as thing on its own with the bots of course. A room on the secrets of machine learning was stuffed with design oriented people.

Talks on robots where also numerous. I attended a couple. One of the most focused one had an interesting mix of people from someone that make robotised help in shops, another from Google(x) and a professor that researched the behaviour of people towards robots. Concluding that the design of the communication of intentions by a robot is very important for the acceptance and usefulness. A robot that cannot open the door but communicates it’s helplessness is much more accepted. She worked with Pixar to model the behaviour.
Julia Hu from Lark called it the concept of seamless emergence. The moment you give too much freedom to give answers, the bots become dumm. When designing for conversational UIs you need to control the environment.
We see robots as servants or even slaves. We need to take that into account when designing the interaction with them. An AI can outperform a human advice when the reasoning behind a decision is added.

The general conclusion on AI and robots is that will be very tasked based aassistantsthat are part of sets of services. An AI is very good in repetitive tasks, but also very useful for tasks that we as humans are likely to become blurred by our own experiences. For instance with brainstorming to trigger new routes.
We will have AIs all around and we will give them a place in our life. As we already have a feeling with the teasing of the robot dogs so will we have the robots in our lives.

Chris Messina: compare how children now use the touch screen and expect all screen to be touch. The next generation will do that with conversation with things.

So you can say that the AI and the execution of it is the key trend from SXSW. It is as Michiel Berger said, for the first time in a decade, since the rise of networked systems and social media, that we have a trend that is influencing all the things around us. That is the value of SXSW for me, grab the energy of the things that matter for the coming year or so.
And I cannot agree more with Kris Hammond from Narrative Science in the first panel on Friday: The AI should be designed by designers not (only) engineers optimising existing processes.

Will hardware as platform be a SXSW theme?

This week, just before SXSW, I was invited to take part in the Bosch Connected Experience conference. A prequel to the big Bosch Connected World relation event that focuses on unlocking new ideas and inspiration by organising a big hackathon and a parallel conference. I presented onAdaptive interactions and the core of things during the conference. It stroke me that an interesting trend popped up on using hardware as a software platform. See if it will be addressed in Austin too…

Bosch is entering the game of connected products with their own IoT Cloudsolution, that they announced on March 9. At the conference several people from Bosch shared their ideas and plans on stimulating startup culture within the organisation and innovation. One of the talks was by the special unit that creates solutions for the connected car, even the self driving car. Kay Herget told on SoftTec and the collaboration with TomTom, but most interesting was the approach on creating a platform for others to use. This is something that will be giving a new stimulant to the Internet of Things the coming time.

What is the idea? The internet of things is of course heavenly inspired by the business models that derives from the digital world. The good and the bad, not for nothing people are worrying on the data and privacy issues. That is another story.

Strong in the idea of don’t building strict products that have all their functions is that products will adapt by using them. That is a concept that I foresee for some time, but it need a healthy driver to invest in. That driver will be the platform economy. Just like software can be an operating system for the end products, hardware will get the same qualities. Hardware with API’s.

An example how this would work is the way we plan to make TaSST sleeve into more than a single product for a single purpose. We have defined the first use case (deaf-blind people) but it gets even more interesting if we manage to create a platform product with an API/SDK for everyone to build their own product on. For me the end result of the project is that package of the sleeves with the SDK and a good way to manage the products you want to create.

This approach is exactly what Bosch is showing in between the lines in that presentation. Building components for intelligent mobility to use by others to build upon, making the software for the physical world.

So I’m wondering if we will see some of this development in Austin at the SXSW conference we are attending the coming week. Keep you posted!

Draw-select reality

Interesting new interaction paradigm seems to be emerging: draw-select reality. As Foursquare introduced the possibility to draw the area on the map for filtering places.

And now there is the new DJI Phantom 4 drone that makes it possible to drawselect a person to follow.


This is not only good news because the drone is really doing what drones should be doing: fly themselves. It is also an interesting interaction concept how it let you intuitively mark things in the real world to connect to functions in a digital space. Just like draw-selecting within Foursquare.  I can imagine this will be more and more a common way to interact as the tools we use gets more intelligent.

A new force awakens

This evening I saw the latest Star Wars movie. And there was an interesting thing happening. The story is just like the first 3 movies solid and appealing, and the nice thing is that just as the first movie (episode IV) you feel the seventies, here you feel the 10s in the way storytelling is laid out. Think Game of Thrones.

But that is not the interesting thing. For me it was striking how the new BB-8 droid took the stage as leading character in the movie. Droids have an important place in Star Wars since the beginning, but this time it was a bit different:

R2D2 is a friendly smart droid that generates lots of empathy, but BB-8 had more emotions in its moving, and in its interactions. At the same time is the droid more basic in form.

BB-8 was from the beginning the leading character. Not next to the real main characters as Luke Skywalker and Han Solo, in this movie they are almost like the supporting role.

Is this important? It is I think for one of the first times that robots have that human touch. Where in movies like Wall-E the robots are more special constructed as a character (also done very well), is it extra interesting this droid is in the basic setup rather realistic and not over romanticised.

I wonder if this positioning of BB-8 in the movie can have the same role for the appreciation and understanding of human droids, as Her had for artificial intelligence operating systems. We will maybe not see it directly in our personal environment, but it paves the way for a new way of looking to these robots. A new force of robotic love awakens…

Thanks to @lalalinder for sharping the idea with her reactions to this tweet.


The end of the internet as we know it

We are approaching a new year and there will be a lot of predictions on what the coming year will bring. I expect I will do something like that too again.
But it is also interesting to think and wonder on the bigger changes, longer changes sometimes. This morning I read an interview with long time respected Bruce Sterling in a Dutch magazine that sparked me to think on the state of the internet. The role is shifting as it remains a source for the things we do, one of the most important ones still.

We growing however in an functional internet. The internet as a medium on it’s own will have less importance as people are moving their communication to other places. And media consumption shifts to services captured in app on the devices we wear close to us or use for entertainment activities. Mobile phones, wearables, smart screens, all information is captured in streams. The internet facilitates the connectivity and is the management platform.

The functional internet is also part of our physical world. The connected things are all about connective tangible interactions with our cloud services. The internet facilitates here a new type of things that become adaptive to the context and use, I wrote on that before. The internet has not a presence on its own here, it is the back-end of the functions we use.

The functional internet is also in the messaging platforms, the closed communication services we use more and more as replacement for interaction with our peers, but is also the new media platform for brands to communicate with consumers.

The shift to a proprietary internet where the closed services becoming bigger as the the open internet is not a new development, it has been discussed before with the grow of Facebook. We see now the change emerge on all levels of our lives and the things we do. The combination of the digitised physical experience and the messaging platforms will change the character of products we use.
Our perception of our self is linked to that. As the reality is already in place that software is eating our world – everything is becoming software, the follow up is that we are as humans becoming eaten by the software too as our digital and physical presences is melted together.

An simple example is how a daily vlogger like Casey Neistat are now living their lives as a movie, and do real life decoupage where reality and representation are mixed up.
In that sense we will also deal with the dangers, the data leaks and manipulations of our behaviour, by developing a new literacy that is focused on data agency.

So in the end is the functional internet something we will be embedding in our being.
The end of the internet as we know it is complete as we have absorbed the characteristics of the hyper connectivity in all we do and are.

Design for timely interactions

On Medium I wrote a longer post on a model that describes the approach to timely interactions which are especially applicable for design for wearables.

The new category of devices we call wearables are entering the market for a couple of years now. Smart watches and Smart glasses are the most well-known. The interaction model for services on these devices have a different architecture than that of mobile phones and tablets. Looking into the setup and use of the Google Glass last year I developed a model to describe the new interactions. This model is also very applicable for the smartwatches that come to market. The Notifaction Model try to give insights in the changes.

Read the whole article on Medium.

Beme app as ultimate execution of the private live sharing era

A couple of months I wrote some thoughts on the role of Meerkat in the new drive for sharing the live moment privately. Ephemeral media with an extra touch of private. I still am a big fan of the principles of Taptalk where you share the moment without knowing what you shared giving it a much more real feel. And creates the ultimate private connection with the viewers.

Yesterday Casey Neistat revealed the details of the new app he is building with his team: Beme. And it looks like they take this same principle and add a very nice physical feel to it. The use of a different way to start the sharing with the proximity sensor have the same effect as Taptalk has even further: you don’t experience what you share and you are liberated from boundaries.

At the same time Snapchat is booming and people sharing more and more their little life stories. It is the ultimate context for the new app. A nice touch to that is the way the app is coming into the market thru the daily vlog Casey has set up. As follower of his daily vlog the last 114 days Casey established a real connection with his live. Maybe Beme is not meant for vlogging like Casey does, but much more for the little moments in life. At the same time the vlogs have the feel of a chain of those little moments. The vlog is like a directed version of Snapchat, telling a story every day that looks like a story that just happened.

I have not be able to test app yet (hope to receive a code soon :-). Curious if the new way of sharing will be something that get traction and if the holding of the phone to the chest will be a new gesture that triggers new behaviour in the end and become a new Snapchat.

SXSW2015 day 5; smart human failures

The closing day. I missed the first session slot and my first session at 11am was sold out session. After changing venue I ended up in a session on the role of our new tech in spiritual thinking, remembering our diseased.
The topic went a bit broader on the function collected data plays and how to value this. Not real new concepts if you followed series like Black Mirror. One question from the audience triggered an interesting thinking: is our brain the center of our universe or is it just the embassy of our digestive system. It made me think how this relates to systems of sensors and AI. The sensors can have a much more important role.

Funny enough it connected nicely to the panel on the smart home I attended afterwards. One of the points there is how we need to speak of a conscious home more than a smart home. The sensors are getting smarter but need to open up to make valuable combinations possible. Philips is investing in a open platform and Nest is active in connecting other services to there own, so there is hope. Still the question remains how much smartness we can handle in our personal space. Something that was present in earlier talks too. See also the tweets on Storify.

Astro Teller -a keynote speaker, leading GoogleX laboratory developing moonshots- showed us how experiment and smart failure is key for (Google’s) innovation. The role of design is not covered well in my opinion though. And failure should not be a self for-filling prophecy. Failure could however been build in as part of the market product in the form of adapting to the user and usage.

Bruce Sterling wrapped up SXSW as tradition with some good points to think about. It sums up this years SXSW for me. The marriage between the human and tech will lead to new types of products that remain adapting to the user. Looks like that the ‘impulse shaped services’ can now become reality. The coming week I will process all the impressions with other visions and share this with you on March 24.

SXSW2015 day 4; tech as material

Day 4 already. The Monday is always a bit different. Hard to pinpoint why, maybe because you feel you have passed half of the conference. Or because it seems a bit more quiet because some of the Americans have to go back to work after the weekend. I did not have to stand in line for the sessions I attended.

I had a day with some different types of talks and topics. Starting with a wearable/3D printing/new material, to biomaterials, via surveillance and trust, to sharing service Lyft, to sensorbased storytelling and finally on new models of the Internet.

The first panel was organised by the Carnegie Mellon University and showed four projects on expressive interactive interfaces. On flexible 3D printed clothes. And another on expressive and learning light. A plaster 3D printer was interesting for the way it followed and learned from human movements. The fourth showed two examples on 3D mapping of body shape and movement and the translation to materials. Tactum and Reverb projects, see the site of Madlab.

The merge of technology and human went a step further in the talk of Robert Langer. He showed how far we are by making implantable devices that fight diseases. In his talk he told about the long road it takes from research to approval and treatment. The developments are going rapidly though now and it has become a 3rd approach to treat cancer. See my photos in the Storify with some details.

The interesting thing on the session on surveillance was the pannelist that was a former NSA director, Stewart Baker. It delivers definitely good discussions on the role of government versus peoples literacy.
Privacy was discussed and how it has almost always been tied to your ability to pay. And how neutral is an algorithm? Every algorithm is editorial.
Trust was the key point of discussion, trust in governments. But it subject was to big for a good panel discussion.
Stewart Baker: The reason Silicon Valley is less sensitive to privacy is because they’re already living in the future.

One of the future routes was laid out in the last session on the ‘end of the internet’. Not literally, but it discussed the new forms of internet infrastructure with mesh networks between mobile phones. This will be especially interesting in developing countries, but it could also grow into the extra layer to the private social networks we all are using with our Whatsapp groups.

You could imagine that services like Uber and Lyft create their own mesh networks and provide the internet connection for clients as extra product. Something that was not discussed by the founder of Lyft – the American only Uber-x competitor. A smart guy that understands that the world is changing if our mobility changed. We use lots of land and energy to mobility, in LA it is half of the city space.

A panel on storytelling engines for smart environments learned us that those engines are more methods. The work from Meghan Athavale from Lumo Play showed how much playful design and storytelling are linked.

Making the story first is crucial for developing a model for the new sensor-based world, the technology is an augmentation on the real world as Lance Weiler said. Which is true but we saw earlier how those two concepts ‘human’ and ‘tech’ are integrating. Even in the physical space. Making stories and let people experience them is also a way to learn on the consequences. We need to have insight in the decisions the AI makes for us.

It seems that we are moving very fast to marriage of tech and human interactions, but the interfaces for understanding both sides are crucial to move ahead.