The coolest invention this year! (was invented two years ago)

SixthSense promised to be the closest thing to Minority Report technology


I’ve written before about my preference for cheap, ubiquitous tech over flashy and expensive gadgets. The exclusivity of pricey next-level gizmos actually detracts from their usefulness and prevents strong user/developer communities from forming (iPad, anyone?). With that in mind, I dreamed about tablet computers becoming as cheap and ubiquitous as USB keys. Turns out, I should have dreamed bigger.

Thanks to Pranav Mistry of MIT’s Media Lab, screens themselves could be rendered irrelevant. Or rather—when walls, sheets of paper, or even your hands can be used as screens, then cheap becomes free and computing takes a great leap forward. All is explained in this amazing TED talk. Take the time to watch the whole thing, you won’t be disappointed:

[ted id=685]

Screenlessness may be just the beginning—Mistry’s invention integrates physical and digital space in a way that strikes me as a solution to some fundamental limitations in computing. What might app developers build around such an intuitive computer?  It’s fun just to imagine the possibilities.

I’m particularly inspired by Mistry’s sheer ingenuity—SixthSense is not the product of a genius math-whiz or a triumph of computer engineering—it seems more like a homemade mashup of existing cheap devices, a puzzle Mistry solved through imagination. The whole thing left me gobsmacked. And I was gobsmacked once again when I checked the date on the talk—it’s two years old!

So what happened with SixthSense? Or, more hopefully—what’s happening? Why doesn’t everyone have one of these ingenuous, cheap, wearable devices? Has Mistry opened SixthSense up to open source development as promised? What does the mainstream consumer electronics industry think about this—is it a threat or an opportunity?

I’ll try to answer these questions this week, and I’ve reached out to Mistry himself. Stay tuned, and perhaps we’ll find out why we’re still waiting for yesterday’s technology.


The coolest invention this year! (was invented two years ago)

  1. Meh.

  2. I was also blown away by this idea when I saw the TEDTalk a couple years ago. I'm very curious to hear what's going on with this now.

    • Innovative thinking and product innovations is needed in todays growing demands. John Frangella – Business Manager @ Proto3000 – 3D Engineering http://www.proto3000.com

  3. TEDTALKS are terrific….I get them sent to me every week.

    Which is probably why I get so fed up with our daily dose of stupid man-made barriers to tech and progress.

  4. I really wasn't impressed with the tech, at least not as it is. It strikes me as the kind of thing that seems cool to an engineer or something, but I really don't see any mass appeal in the tech as is. That's not to say that someone like a Steve Jobs won't come along and see how to adapt some of the ideas into something more widely appealing and useful. I mean, I'm about as much as a technophile as anyone I know, but I just don't see any appeal in what he's got there. I hope someone will make it into something awesome and prove me wrong!

    • I expect that technophiles actually see less use for this than non-technophiles.. because for folks like us, carrying around and using a computing device seems entirely natural, and the exaggerated motions he needs to use for this thing don't.

      But as is, you're probably correct. He needs to figure out some way to get rid of the colored thimbles before the mass-market will take it up fully. However I expect if he simply tied it into a blue-tooth headset, the mass market would prefer this thing to their current cellular phones. Being able to display information on the item you're looking at, without having to pull out another piece of hardware I think is huge, and part of the reason why a lot of people don't use the tech they have to its full capability. Simplicity in the UI is paramount.

      I mean hell, I've got my Blackberry Storm, and it can do all kinds of crap, but to be honest, I really only use it for phone calls simply because it's a pain in the rear to sit there poke at the tiny screen or watch things in squint-o-vision (and an iPad wouldn't be any better, because then I've got to haul around an even bigger device all the time for the few times where it'd be nice to have..)

  5. I am referring to the screen, all the rest are cool.

  6. Thanks for following up on this. I have been referring people to this TED Talk for a couple of years and would like to hear more.

    I don't want to lug around a computing device large or small, but I love the access and freedom I get from a blackberry, so this sounds liberating. How much better would it be if I didn't have to squint at the little letters and pound out searches and email answers with my big thumbs?

  7. Revolutionary! absolutely stunning. This is the future of computing!

  8. WOW! Simply amazing!

  9. Imagine when this teams up with 3D glasses… You could watch Luke fight Vader on your kitchen table.
    "Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi; you're my only hope."

  10. I woke up to see this article sitting amongst other emails and decided to watch..I am stunned and wide awake now. The possibilities are endless. The good this technology can do is amazing it is heartwarming just how many people it can help. But I fear it will also be used for the darker side of things. Imagine the idea that credit card data could be manipulated, or could it bring identity theft to a whole new level? That would be my real fear about what certain people would choose to do with it. However, With proper unbreakable security built into it such as finger print id, retina id etc.. then breakable it would not be. I am beyond excited about this technology. The need to travel with so many "things"' may one day be over.

  11. It is really interesting to see the future emerging in our past! It is surprising that this has not be publicised before and all the big names not going nuts with it. Instead we have xbox and ps3 addons that cost a packet. This guy made it out of 2 ancient roller mice!!!!!!!! This reminds me of the electric car and oil companies!! This idea has been around a long time, seen some micro monitors spectacles and hand-glove keyboards, but never have I seen such a simple and elegant implementation of the portable computer before!!

  12. Thanks for this great TED Talks post. Like many comments, I too love TED for their inspiration and innovation! Another great source of links to excellent video talks and lectures sites is http://www.videotalks.org. Jim Melfi

  13. And now more than six months later?

    • Yep seems like it’s now a dead or non public project?

  14. Great!


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