Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Google Little Signals wants to make notifications less disruptive with puffs of air and moving shadows

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Why it matters: Tackling the stress-inducing barrage of daily notifications can be a bit tricky. However, Google has revealed an interesting experiment that’s meant to gently communicate this info through subtle changes in the environment. Dubbed Little Signals, the study in interaction design makes use of six different modules that produce chimes, blow puffs of air and tap nearby objects to grab user attention. Considering its experimental nature and the fact that it’s undertaken by Google, Little Signals may never be more than a passion project, but it could potentially play a part in how we interact with digital devices in a connected future.

Google says that Little Signals is a design study that explores how humans might stay up to date with digital information while maintaining ‘moments of calm.’ The experiment considers new ways of interacting and relating with technology by making subtle changes to the environment to deliver information, similar to how a whistle from a kettle or the moving hands of a clock keep us informed.

The idea is implemented through six different modules, each of which communicates in a distinct way. First up is Air, which can rotate and generate pulses of air to interact with items. Imagine sitting in your living room and getting notified of an email as Air gently moves the leaves of a nearby plant.

Next up is Button, a module that grows in height as it receives more information and produces a chime when full. Its top can be twisted to the right to reveal more details about an event or twisted left for less info. The third module, called Movement, uses a series of pegs for graphic representation of items like a calendar or a timer. These pegs can work individually or in a group and can be tapped as if dismissing a notification.

The fourth module, Rhythm, produces ambient sounds with varying tones and melodies depending on the event’s urgency. This puck-like module sits on a flat base and can be flipped or waved over to mute/dismiss an incoming notification.

The fifth module, Shadow, is perhaps the most subtle of all as it communicates via shadows by breathing or stretching its mushroom-like top. The purpose and effectiveness of this module are slightly questionable, given that it’s likely to work in well-lit environments only. Nevertheless, Google says it’s meant to respond to a user’s presence.

The sixth, and last object, is Tap. A fairly straightforward device that creates sounds by physically tapping nearby items and surfaces. The intensity of taps corresponds to the urgency of a notification.

Google says the Little Things experiment builds on Calm Technology, which looks at evolving technological trends, including ubiquitous computing. The project is a collaboration between Google Seed Studio and Map Project Office.

For those interested in interaction design, Google has also shared code and guides for all six objects so that users can set up and interact with their own Arduino-powered devices.

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