Why should your phone be the "smartest" thing in your pocket? Why can't simple everyday objects like keys and wallets be hooked up to the cloud and made to display useful data like the weather or bank balances? Designer/hackers Ben Bashford, Tim Burrell Saward, and Dan Williams asked themselves the same question, and created their answer in DisplayCabinet, a prototype augmented-reality display system for... well, just about anything you want to hook up to it. Here's how it works:
Bashford and his co-creators wanted to make personal data more useful by pulling it off of screens and putting it into physical context. If you're likely to want to know what the weather outside is when you grab your keys to go out, then your keys should passively and calmly display that information -- not that electronic brick you carry around in your pocket and jab at every 10 seconds. The team created DisplayCabinet in just 24 hours, as part of the Pachube Internet of Things Hackathon.
DisplayCabinet works by combining RFID tags with light projection. Bashford and his team embedded the wireless tags into a keyring, wallet, and a bunch of cute little physical "avatars" of other common tasks (like a tiny subway train for planning trips on public transportation, or a small refrigerator for keeping track of groceries). When you place each physical token in a ring of light cast onto a table (courtesy of DisplayCabinet's hidden light projector), the ring expands to display useful info related to that object and its context: such as subway schedules, your bank balance, or the fact that the milk in your fridge is about to go bad.
As Bashford writes on his blog, "It's far from perfect but this is just the beginning." Wireless connectivity and miniaturized, auto-syncing sensors in everything will only become more common as time goes on, leading to what techno-utopians like to call "an Internet of things." In that world, everything you buy, use, and touch will be web-connected and interactive, just like your iPhone is now. But you won't necessarily have to squint at a tiny screen to see that information -- in fact, that interaction might someday seem as limited and archaic as using a rotary telephone. And "hardware sketches" like DisplayCabinet are pointing the way forward. If a few guys could build something this cool out of RFID technology in one day, imagine what GE could do with it in a year.