Steelcase + IBM's Bluespace project gets press

CNN is covering a Steelcase and IBM project out of IBM's Watson lab, Bluespace. Looking at the Bluespace site, things seem quiet, but the article has some interesting ideas in it:

[...]sensors and displays embedded in the furniture, which know when you arrive in the office and will automatically bring up your computer settings.

The wallpaper, or images on walls at least, will change color and pattern depending on your mood and preferences, even letting colleagues know whether you can be interrupted.

Most of the stuff they mention here, although they're talking about 2020, exists today.

One thing that troubles me about the article is that it implies that they're thinking of designing technologies for the office primarily from the perspective of the company's goals, rather than the goals of the individuals using it:

"Workers' productivity is the ultimate goal. We want to use technology in such a way to make workers as productive as possible."

Yeah, yeah, sure, sure, worker productivity is good, but that's not how people think about their jobs. Many failed technologies show that there need to be incentives for people to use the fancy tech on a day-to-day basis, or else it ends up making the organization as a whole less productive, as people struggle with the technology and central command creates new processes that require its use (because otherwise people don't use it). Bluespace does recognize this, to some extent, and they believe that this incentive is going to come in the form of attention-focusing technology:

"We're being bombarded, so we have to find a way -- we, the creators of technology -- to make this technology more aware of what the knowledge worker is doing so that we're not interrupting him or her at inopportune moments," she said.

I agree with the identification of the problem, but their solution, which is to make any surface a display (not an ambient display, but a replacement for screens), doesn't seem right:

A device called the "Everywhere Display Projector," a combination of a projector and computer vision technology, is used at Bluespace.

It projects information from a computer on to any surface, including, floors, desktops and chairs.

"The vision technology allows that surface to become interactive, so that while the computer is projecting the information on to, say, your table top, the worker can interact with that the thing which is basically just light by using light," Lai said.

This seems like it just means that there's no place you can get away from your work. The technology, as presented here, arbitrarily blurs the lines between work areas, rather than to defining them in a useful way.

They're also, somewhat surprisingly, working on detecting the emotions of workers:

"Once we get this emotion detection correct we can very quickly translate that into what we're projecting for wallpaper," Lai said.

That last part about emotion detection seems, uh, a bit out of left field relative to the other technologies mentioned. Maybe it's an attempt to bring a technological solution looking for a problem down to human scale. Frankly, I think it's potentially the most important part of the whole research, and by far the hardest, but I worry that because it doesn't instantly translate into hardware, it will probably get the fewest resources. That's kind of a shame.

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This page contains a single entry by Mike Kuniavsky published on May 23, 2005 11:04 AM.

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