The SixthSense

November 22, 2016

Back in 2009, Pranav Mistry, a technology designer, spoke at TED Talk about his latest concept for a new program. It’s name: SixthSense­ and no, it’s not that intuitive power that some of us seem to have. Instead this but gesture-based system is in development, something that sees the sci-fi future that so many of us have been longing for is getting closer with each passing year.

The SixthSense was initially developed by Steve Mann at the MIT Media Lab back in 1994 but continued further development in the 2000s by Pranav Mistry. Mistry began his research after an interest in the way humans interact through gestures and a desire to figure out a way to blend the digital and physical world in a seamless manner. His initial prototype was made from four rollers he found inside of computer mice, two pieces of string, some pulleys and springs. In continuing to develop this technology, Mistry created a headpiece that contained a projector that would project the program onto any surface. Later, they changed the headpiece to something user-friendlier like a neckpiece.


© PiPiChiChi. Original Via WikiMedia / Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike License

The SixthSense uses gesture recognition which is tracked by wearing colored tape on your fingers. Since the camera on the neckpiece is constantly recording and understanding your hand gestures and the objects your place before it, this calls for a very intuitive piece of machinery. It allows access to the digital world at any given moment, as well as on any surface. Mistry wanted to create a machine that was highly aware and able to understand and interpret the world around it. So for instance, if you draw a circle on your wrist, the device would recognize that as wanting to know the time, so it would project a clock onto your wrist. Or, if you wanted to take a picture, rather than taking out your phone, you could shape your fingers into a snapshot motion against what you want to take a picture of and the device would take the photo.

That was just the beginning. Mistry demonstrated many other features that the SixthSense would include as the TED Talk continued. While he did not physically demonstrate them on the stage, as much of these are still concepts and in development, he did show videos of his progress. You can watch movies and play games on any surface, like a sheet of paper. Also, by writing a reminder on a sticky note, it could instantly be synced onto your digital calendar. But by far the most eye-opening feature was how you could copy-and-paste images and text from a physical book onto your projected surface of choice. Then you could go on to print this onto an actual sheet of paper, the printed sheet becoming a physical demonstration of the projection you had in front of you just seconds earlier!

It’s pretty surreal to know that this technology could actually become part of our daily lives at some point in the future. For the people saying that this will make us into even more of technological zombies, Mistry explained how this couldn’t be further from the truth. He said that by having the machines we have today, ‘we become machines sitting in front of other machines’, but the SixthSense offers a way to interact with the world around us in an entirely new way. We aren’t staring off into phones and ignoring what is in front of us, but rather we are engaging with the world and seeing the information we would look for on devices projected onto the world before us. This this technology, everything will merge together nicely.

Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch

Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch: © Karlis Danbrans  Original Via Flickr / Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike License

While this TED Talk was filmed back in 2009, the height of Mistry’s development on the device, he has since been hired by Samsung to become the director of their Think Tank Team. He helped design the new Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch, which has, to some extent, been using similar mechanics as the SixthSense ideal. At the end of his talk, Mistry mentioned how putting together rhis technology is relatively simple; therefore he has open sourced the SixthSense so that it is available to anyone who wants to create it for themselves.

However, if you’re not technologically savvy, will you just have to wait around until Mistry finally completes it?

Well, in some ways, this technology is being implemented into new designs every day. Even with the release of Samsung watches and Apple watches, it seems designers are starting to think about how we could make technology a less abrasive part of our lives that separates us away from the physical world, but rather blends smoothly together with it. I think the likes of these watches may be the start to what Mistry’s has been aiming for. Maybe we will even end up exactly where Mistry has been pushing us towards for all these years, in an era where there is a fluid integration of life and technology.


Feature Image:  © By Pranav Mistry (MIT Media Lab). Original Via WikiMedia 

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