Right now, the Internet of Things is controlled by a thousand little apps that mostly live in your smartphone, each with its own UI. But what would a universal UI for the IoT look like? In the mind of interaction designer Marc Exposito, it looks like a children's drawing on a magic piece of digital paper that can control the real world around you.
According to Exposito, who completed the project as part of his final bachelor's thesis in La Salle Campus Barcelona's Seamless Interaction Group, DrawIt was created to help reduce the "mental load" of the Internet of Things—which forces users to learn a new interface for every single smart device they add to a home. Exposito thought that the ideal interface for the Internet of Things would allow people to more intuitively interact with their smart devices, and what's more intuitive than drawing? "Drawing is a natural way to express ourselves as human beings," he says.
DrawIt works by representing all of your IoT devices—your Philips Hue lamp, your Nest thermostat, your Bluetooth speaker, and so on—as a simple shape, like a circle or a triangle. Loading up the app for the first time, DrawIt looks like any other tablet-based doodling app. But when you draw something in DrawIt, it controls one of the smart objects in your home, depending on your artistic flourishes.
For example, by drawing a triangle and then coloring it in, you could turn on an LED light and then shift the mood lighting to purple. How does DrawIt know that a triangle represents the light? You train it by pointing your tablet's camera at the smart object you want to control, and then drawing the shape you want to represent it.
But in addition to just controlling one device at a time, DrawIt can also be used to link devices together. Say you have a Bluetooth speaker and an LED light, represented by a circle and a square. In DrawIt, you can draw a line between those two shapes to connect them—so that when you raise the volume on the speaker (which you do by tapping the circle, then pinching it out to make it physically bigger) the light from your smart lamp gets brighter. Conceptually, at least, you can network all your home's smart objects together in this way, controlling them all simultaneously by constantly elaborating on a Rube-Goldberg-esque drawing.
Like Methodo, another universal controller for the Internet of Things, there's nothing technologically impossible about DrawIt. It remains a concept right now simply because there's no standard language for the Internet of Things (like HTML, or Wi-Fi) that allows a single set of commands to control all devices.
But if the Internet of Things is ever going to fulfill its promise and make our homes smart, that standard language will eventually have to evolve. And then, concepts like DrawIt won't seem so far-fetched or futuristic. They'll simply be one of many ways in which we can control our homes.