MIT Whiz Sets Out To Humanize The Internet Of Things

Joseph Flaherty | Wired | June 19, 2013

The “Internet of Things” grows with every light bulb, garage door opener, and watch that connects to it, but product designer Valentin Heun isn’t sure that investing in these so-called “smart” devices is a good idea. In fact, he believes this technology is leading to a dystopian future filled with soulless, virtualized products and users overcome with information overload. Far from a being a Luddite, Heun is a Ph.D. candidate at MIT’s Media Lab and is trying to bring a designer’s empathic touch to what has previously been the domain of techies.

His projects, called “Smarter Objects,” include a door lock, desk lamps, and a small radio that bring the benefits of computation to objects without sacrificing their intrinsic, tactile pleasures. His radio sports a modern, geometric design, but features traditional knobs that allow the listener to adjust the station and volume. However, when a tablet or smartphone is held in front of the device, the user can turn the knobs virtually and achieve the same effect — or they can use an app to change their functionality. For instance, a user could update the device’s software so that the “station” knob will cycle between Pandora stations instead of the FM dial. Users get the benefit of software customization without having to launch an app every time they want to use their devices.