What comes after the keyboard?

By: Suzanne Guillette

New innovations will change how we interact with computers.

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Imagine staring at the pieces of a backyard swing set with turbo slide and not needing an instruction manual. Instead of reading steps, you slip a device on your finger, point toward a bolt and a hologram arrow appears, guiding you through the assembly.

That scenario isn’t a far-flung dream. It could happen now. Litho, a piece of finger-worn hardware embedded with sensors, also acts as a computer controller. Users can connect Litho to a smartphone or augmented reality (AI) headset and the smart tool will interact with the real world.

The recently developed, finger-worn device is just one example of how computing interfaces are adapting to human experience. Our days of sitting in front of a screen and keyboard to interact with computers are likely numbered. In the past few years, voice-activated smart speakers have introduced a different type of interaction with computers to a large population. New digital experiences are designed to be more integrated with daily routines.

Consider a few other forward thinking projects:

PaperID, interactive smart paper, functions much like a touch screen. Developed by researchers from the University of Washington, Disney Research, and Carnegie Mellon University, PaperID could be used to link a physical book to an e-reader. One possible application: When a page is turned in the paper book, the e-reader reflects the progress. PaperID can also sense when a music conductor’s wand moves over the surface, connecting sheet music to a digital device.

Wall++ is a smart wall that can sense users and appliances and acts much like a room-height trackpad that responds to touch. Developed by the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, Wall++ enables users to do things like control appliances, turn lights on and off and give commands to smart devices like voice-activated smart speakers.

Parker is a teddy bear that encourages learning via augmented reality. Using Parker, children can play an interactive game of doctor, and take the bear’s temperature and perform “X-rays” on a tablet or smartphone. When Parker is well taken care of, the bear’s happiness increases, a function that helps children learn empathy.

The digital world can even impact food purchases. At the “Grocery Store of the Future,” which was developed in part by MIT professor Carlos Ratti, display cases show product information when they sense shoppers are reaching for items.

Litho’s co-founder Nat Martin says that emerging technologies like his company’s hand-based controller allow for heightened engagement with the world, adding functionality to smartphones and headsets: “This technology builds off the real world and enhances it, as opposed to distracting from it.”

The smart device has numerous real world applications, including switching a TV channel and turning off the lights. Architects can design a house on location.

“The highest potential is really beautiful — we’ll spend more time interacting with people in the real world. The technology enhances our experience without replacing it,” says Martin.

For more information, see:

Prototypes that show the future of human interaction

Wall++ interactive surface

About the author(s): 

Suzanne Guillette has previously written about technology for Verizon and her work has appeared in O Magazine, Quartz and the Rumpus. She lives in New York City.