The mirror finish of Google’s 2020 Nest Thermostat might have been a shiny glimpse at the tech giant’s longer-term goals to hide hardware displays in everyday household items, at least according to a new entry in the Google AI Blog.
In “Hidden Interfaces for Ambient Computing,” research scientist Alex Olwal and hardware engineer Artem Dementyev identity “an increasing desire to create connected ambient computing devices and appliances that can preserve the aesthetics of everyday materials, while providing on-demand access to interaction and digital displays.”
They’re talking about a now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t technology.
Google prototypes reveal a thermostat textile, a scalable clock under a wood veneer, and a caller ID display and zooming countdown under mirrored surfaces.
What looks like a plain-face, wood-paneled, dumbbell dishwasher might be smart enough to suddenly display the time remaining on the rinse cycle at your command.
“This technology,” say the researchers, “makes it possible to have high-brightness, low-cost display appear from underneath materials . . . for on-demand, touch-based interaction.”
Lighting is the hang-up. AMOLED, a type of OLED display with an extra layer of thin-film resistors, is too expensive and too hard to manufacture for ambient computing. LCD and electronic ink (e-ink), a type of display used in e-readers that mimics printed ink, aren’t bright enough to penetrate the household materials.
The researchers are now targeting PMOLED, or Passive-Matrix OLED, a display technology that uses more simple controls that “significantly reduces cost and complexity.”
If successful, this suggests a home with fewer displays and less clutter. And maybe someday a Google Assistant display embedded in your sofa’s armrest?
“Hidden interfaces demonstrate how control and feedback surfaces of smart devices and appliances could visually disappear when not in use and then appear when in the user’s proximity or touch,” say the researchers. “We hope this direction will encourage the community to consider other approaches and scenarios where technology can fade into the background.”
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Kevin, a former consumer electronics columnist for The Chicago Tribune, writes about technology and health from his home on the Connecticut shoreline overlooking an osprey platform. Smart-home confession: He has two nightlights in his home connected to smart plugs.