Google’s Little Signals Concepts Show What ‘Ambient’ Notifications Could Look Like

Google showcased a “design study” in ambient computing, with a series of objects that can subtly send notifications through taps, gentle breezes, and shifting shadows (shout out to Aisle Former student Dieter Bohn for tweet this to us). The company calls the experiment Little Signals and says it explores “quiet computing,” or ways to keep you in the know without your phone ringing a notification chime and lighting up a screen.

Google has six objects in the Little Signals collection: air, button, motion, rhythm, shadow, and tap. He shows concepts of what the devices might look like in his video (which you can watch above) and explains what they all do on his website, though the descriptions might veer a bit too far into poetry. to my taste. For example, the button is said to “combine scale and sound to communicate and provide control.” The top twists – right for more detail, left for less – and grows as it receives information. It plays a tone when full. I’m… not quite sure what the twist is, and the video doesn’t really show it (although someone bops the button at the end of the video).

It’s no surprise that Google is toying with the idea of ​​ambient computing — it’s been talking about the concept for years and adding tiny bits into some of its devices. And while Google’s collaborator on this project calls it a series of “interaction experiments and thought starters,” you can actually make it into something real. Google provides instructions on how to put the electronics and code together to build a fan that tells you the weather and some tips on how to make the other items. He even provided 3D files for each object for those who want to figure out how to integrate the electronics themselves. Files can be downloaded as a zip from the Little Signals site.


Google’s sample project is not enough as aesthetic as that of the video.
Image: Google

I’ll be perfectly honest – with how busy and locked into a computer screen I am when working, a light breeze just isn’t enough to alert me unless it comes from an air horn which triggers. And my focus has been so shattered by a life of the internet that there’s zero percent chance I’ll notice subtle differences in the type of shadow something is kicking around (although that’s arguably the exact issue that Google is trying to draw attention to with this experiment).

That said, I can think of tiny ways to use a few of them, especially the one with all the little pegs. If I put it on my bedside table I could tell it if I left any of the downstairs lights on before I went to bed and give me a rough approximation of the temperature outside when I wake up . I also think the tap could be useful as a kitchen timer for tasks where you just need to know when, for example, your dough has had enough time to rise or the chicken has marinated enough.

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