For a first prototype of the Cheeky Objects, my physical computing project focused on social objects for energy saving, I choose to represent one of them: the annoying window blind.
The concept is very simple, when there is enough light outside, the window blinds will automatically open and the light inside will switch off, an easy trick to take advantage of sun light.
As first prototype, I built a simple two-walls room in MDF. One wall with a window covered by a fabric curtain and the other one with a LED on top just to simulate the room light.
The curtain is connected with a transparent fishing string to a Servo Motor, hidden behind the wall. As the servo rotates of 180º the string is pulled and the curtain is “magically” risen from one bottom corner.
The servo is connected trough an Arduino to a light sensor which is placed on the outside of the room. Once this sensor detect an high amount of light coming from outside it moves the servo opening the blind and switches off the LED.
The whole thing would need to work only when the light inside is on (otherwise the blind could open for no reason), therefore all the process is activated by a switch still connected to the Arduino board.
This is obviously a very basic project, being also the first time ever I worked with Arduino. However, my focus is not on the advanced technological innovation, but on the critic to smart houses and their smart objects. Indeed, they are intended to enhance people’s comfort and lifestyle, but sometimes if instructed to do determined tasks, such as helping the environment and saving energy, can be bothering and pedant for their users.
In this specific case not everyone would like the blinds to open all the time letting sun and intruders eyes in. However, this is what these objects are programmed for and what they reckon is right to do, in order to educate people to respect the environment and save the energy. These kind of objects can all fit in this category of so-defined, by the Intel Technology Strategist’s Alex Gluhak:
better-ware = things that assist you in daily life an make you a better person.
The concept looks brilliant and this is apparently where part of the technological research is addressed to, but its outcomes on people may be quite scary or at least worthy to receive some critic.
Video prototypes use video to illustrate how users will interact with a new system. The goal is to refine a single system concept, making design choices that highlight and explore a particular design path. The technique appears similar to video brainstorming: Both involve small design groups who work together to create and interact with rapid prototypes in front of a video camera. Both result in video illustrations that render abstract ideas concrete and help team members communicate with each other. Both use paper & pencil prototypes or cardboard mock-ups to simulate novel technology.
The critical difference is that video brainstorming expands the design space, by creating a number of unconnected collections of individual ideas, whereas video prototyping contracts the design space, by showing how a specific collection of design choices work together in a single design proposal.
(Mackay, 1988, Mackay & Bezerianos)
In my case, I didn’t use the video to show interactions of people with the system, being a scaled model obviously. However, it helped me to explain the flow and the whole concept in only 30 seconds. Doing the prototype, its also a good exercise to go through again the process step by step, seeing exactly the sequence of what is happening and things which are happening at the same time (as the case of the servo motor moving while the blind is opening, I thought about showing this in a split screen, but eventually I opted for showing only the blind as I found it more relevant, than a simple servo motor turning 180°)
It is a pretty technical video, as the technology is shown more than the effect on people, which is something I intend to explain in another video with people in it.