UbiComp Goes Spray-On


Via Gizmodo, we make money not art, and The Engineer: spray-on computers.

The idea is to develop computers about the size of a grain of sand (though they say a cubic millimeter here), give them sensors and networking capabilities, and completely change our notion of “computer.”

From The Engineer:

Each Speck will be autonomous, with its own captive, renewable energy source. Thousands of Specks, scattered or sprayed on a person or surfaces, will collaborate in programmable computational networks called Specknets. Scientists are even considering the idea of a putting the devices in a spray-can, allowing the Specks to be sprayed onto a whatever surface they wish.

In the short term, engineers imagine a number of useful, but not revolutionary uses for these Specknets:

They could be used as lighting and temperature sensors in buildings, placed in aircraft wings to detect failures or used to sensitise medicine bottles to ensure that people take their prescribed medication at the correct times.

But don’t let that confuse you into thinking that they aren’t aware of the broader implications. Here it is straight from the Speckled Computing project website:

Speckled Computing is the culmination of a greater trend. As the once-separate worlds of computing and wireless communications collide, a new class of information appliances will emerge. Where once they stood proud — the PDA bulging in the pocket, or the mobile phone nestling in one’s palm, the post-modern equivalent might not be explicit after all. Rather, data sensing and information processing capabilities will fragment and disappear into everyday objects and the living environment. At present there are sharp dislocations in information processing capability — the computer on a desk, the PDA/laptop, mobile phone, smart cards and smart appliances. In our vision of Speckled Computing, the sensing and processing of information will be highly diffused — the person, the artefacts and the surrounding space, become, at the same time, computational resources and interfaces to those resources. Surfaces, walls, floors, ceilings, articles, and clothes, when sprayed with specks (or “speckled”), will be invested with a “computational aura” and sensitised post hoc as props for rich interactions with the computational resources.