Is the Ultimate Handheld Device No Device in the Hand?

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dd-sixthsense-0210It’s been a year now since technology, also known as WUW short for (Wear Ur World) was unveiled to a standing ovation at the Long Beach TED conference by MIT Media Labs PhD student Pranav Mistry and his advisor Pattie Maes.

Here was demonstrated perhaps the real direction of the future of mobile computing. Not a new tablet, (iPad) prototype, not a flexible, bendable, roll-able-E Ink, OLED, LCD or any other cutting edge technology. Rather, the simple concept that the best display is one you don’t have to carry, at least not in the hands – a technology that loses the idea of a handheld device altogether in mobile computing. What India-born Mistry demonstrated is no display in the hand, implying that no device of any prominence at all is actually best.

The system included years of research and development from this extraordinary grad student now at MIT, and hardware cobbled together from $350 in off-the-shelf components, included a wearablepico projector and mini-Web camera using a unique gesture recognition system user interface, all interfacing with the cell phone that stays in the pocket.

Think about it. At a recent car show, the newest Audi (and many other cars) feature enhanced Bluetooth connectivity with most cell phones, integrating the device in your pocket with the displays, speakers and even volume, and selection controls built right into the car. This micro-environment is augmented by the digital data you bring to it, in a highly personal and effective way.

A nice video of Mistry demonstrating the possibilities of this technology is given below. Stay with this video as the first part is a little slow, but by the end, you will be pretty amazed. The WUW or Sixth Sense idea is not too different – only it breaks out of the confines of the car and opens up the digital world to augment the real world with data important to you. It use gestures, cameras, pico projectors and the power of microprocessors and sophisticated algorithms to interpret what is relevant to you at the moment, and augment specific interactions with usable data-real time.

Click here to see the video:

Here’s how the group represents the technology in their web site: “‘SixthSense’ is a wearable, gestural interface that augments the physical world around us with digital information and lets us use natural hand gestures to interact with that information. By using a camera and a tiny projector mounted in a pendant like wearable device, ‘SixthSense’ sees what you see and visually augments any surfaces or objects we are interacting with. It projects information onto surfaces, walls, and physical objects around us, and lets us interact with the projected information through natural hand gestures, arm movements, or our interaction with the object itself. ‘SixthSense’ attempts to free information from its confines by seamlessly integrating it with reality, and thus making the entire world your computer.”

In one interesting use model, shown in his TED presentation last February, Mistry projected moving video on a white surface taped to The New York Times newspaper, with video augmenting the report he was reading. No tablet or iPad here, just simple online video that helped tell the story in the newspaper better. No newspaper subscription, you may say, no problem; simply project today’s web news on to any surface…

Mistry has said he will provide open source coding to help commercialize this concept, but we are unclear how this will fit with MIT Media Lab policy. An interview is planned with an update to be reported in the next Mobile Display Report.
stevesechrist-1009But can you imagine the crowd’s reaction last week if Steve Jobs came to the stage holding NO DEVICE -proclaiming, “The best new tablet, is no tablet!” That would be cutting edge… Nothing to get in the way of intuitive interaction with the natural world. Rather, a set of new technologies that allow the “device” to disappear. And iPad or not, we are getting closer to this reality with pico projection perhaps finally finding its true Raison d’être.

Steve Sechrist, a senior editor and analyst at Insight Media, is a 13-year display veteran with experience in business development strategy, competitive market analysis, and technology writing. He is responsible for the editorial management of Insight Media’s Large Display Report and Mobile Display Report. Contact him at