Gadgets That will Change Your life

A piece of furniture that speaks to us — that’s the definition of Rose’s vision for the future with enchanted objects. The Ambient umbrella communicates with its owner through a series of patterned blue lights that indicate if the forecast calls for rain.

Armed with your ZIP code, a wireless receiver at the handle of the umbrella connects to AccuWeather and then glows and pulses a gentle blue light if the weather looks frightful. This battery-powered umbrella is on the market — but it’s a lot more than the cheap $3 model on every street corner.

Two-hundred square feet seems impossibly small, even by New York standards — but a new MIT-designed micro-apartment called CityHome that can transform a 15-by-15 space into an exercise area, lounge, study, kitchen, and sleeping area, hopes to change all that.

The apartment is controlled by wall-mounted devices that resemble a clock. Just pick a time of day and the room morphs into the space you want. For example: “Once out of bed, his room moves into exercise mode: The bed lifts away into the ceiling, the floor space clears, and a full-wall, live video projection of a yoga studio starts.

Another prototype developed by Rose and colleagues, this piece of “ambient furniture” makes for some magical garbage. The Amazon Trash can has a tiny camera and a bar code scanner that records everything you throw away — from household cleaning supplies to milk cartons — and sends the information to Amazon.com, where it is immediately reordered and shipped to you. No more grocery lists.

A second prototype that is being developed comments on your eating habits and grocery picks with choice statements like: “Third box of Oreos this week?” or “Microbrew, all right!” or “Blueberry juice, loaded with antioxidants.”

An example of “reciprocal presence,” the LumiTouch picture frame enables the feeling of closeness, even for those continents apart. Inspired by long-distance relationships, it comes with two linked frames. When one person is near the frame, the background light of the corresponding frame glows. When one user touches the frame, it lights up in the area where the other user touched it. The color shifts in response to how hard and how long you grip the frame.

A similar product is the Like-a-Hug jacket, developed by MIT’s Melissa Chow. This puffy vest inflates every time someone “likes” us on Facebook — whether we post a picture of our babies, a status update about the food we’re currently eating or a political rant.

This, the designer says, allows us “to feel the warmth, encouragement, support or love that we feel when we receive hugs.”

The Like-A-Hug jacket is not for sale — but Rose envisions other examples of this haptic, or touch-based, technology might one day be: a phone that gets heavier as your voice-mail messages pile up, a shoe that nudges your feet to walk in a specific direction or a wallet that gets harder to open once you approach a spending limit.

The Copenhagen Wheel, announced at the 2009 Copenhagen Conference on Climate Change and initially developed in an MIT lab as a research project, contains a motor that transforms a normal bike into a hybrid electric vehicle. The device consists of a motor and battery pack that snaps onto the back of the bike. As you pedal, the wheel captures excess energy when going downhill or braking and then helps propel you up steeper inclines or harder terrains.

The wheel can also connect to the Internet, using it to record speed and distance traveled, find friends throughout the city, inspect air quality and even notify you if the bike starts to move when you’re not in the seat. In the mood to use up more calories? Using your smartphone, you can also vary the level of powered assist.

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