Discovery III: Ambient Influence

tldr; Report on an Internet of Things devices you haven’t seen before and are directly relevant to the readings you've explored this week. Share the example as a new Post in the #discoveries channel on Slack.

Outcomes: View Now

This week you’ve seen two cases that examine ambient, embodied and tangible strategies for new devices. You’re now going to find an example that goes beyond the two cases discussed in the readings and that we can talk about together.

As part of this exploration, you’ll find an example of a smart and connected device that either:

The example must also represent a connected IoT solution too.

Important: the examples that will be presented in class are included at the end of this discovery brief. You can draw on these to expand your understanding but you must also go beyond them too

Learning Objective

This is a quick assignment designed to help you gather some inspirational resources. As part of this exercise you’re going to search for creative precedents and report back on what you find. Together, we’ll develop a large database of design approaches to inspire our work in this project.

By the end of this exercise, students will:


Having developed a shared understanding of ambient, embodied and tangible devices, you are to seek out and report on an IoT project that explores these ideas. It must be something you haven’t seen before, is relevant to the project at hand (i.e. matches the criteria), and could be used inform your design approach

Brief: Identify and report on an ambient/embodied/tangible strategy

The emphasis here is on discovery. That means, choosing a project introduced in the course material, as a precedent in the project brief or that you already know defeats the purpose.

Explore design concepts, artistic works, news sites, blogs, aggregator, as well as conferences, journals and scientific papers to find exciting examples of the Internet of Things vision. This could equally be a historical example which informed the kinds of products and scenarios we encounter today, a breakthrough product which has had impact or influence, a current and state-of-the-art consumer device, a cutting edge research prototype, or a speculative proposal for a future device. There’s also no constraints on the sources or places you can look but some starting points are listed below.

A Note As part of your creative project you are expected to include a section in your documentation on Context. This section will ask you to provide a short write up of your outcome as it relates to:

  1. theory, concepts and ideas introduced through the course and
  2. research, artists, and examples of prior work that inform your approach.

This exercise will help you begin to prepare this section.


Submitting your work:

Create a Post in the #discoveries channel on slack (see this guide on submitting your work for discovery exercises.

Important: Title your post with the name of the project and include the following label at the end for grading purposes “#socialthings” e.g. My example name #socialthings

In the post, embed a video and/or images of the project, and write a short critical reflection on the project (about 200 words) in which you:

Note: Create a separate post for each example.

Note: Follow the instructions carefully as these projects require you to follow the posting instructions to receive full grades.

Ambients - Some Context

Ambient objects aim to make data glanceable. They connect us to complex information like weather and traffic in an extremely accessible format. They don’t intrude like our phones which buzz and whirr to demand attention, instead they subtly nudge us to act when we happen to glance in their direction. They are calm and they distill information from the broader world into the minimum we need to know in order to act.

At their core, ambient objects are about embodying data in the real world. They enable us to engage with digital information in a physical space. They allow us to perceive the conditions of the world beyond where we are at any moment. They are specific, purposeful, elegantly simple abstractions of data placed around us to give us value.

David Rose in Enchanted objects explains these abilities and the design process as follows:

“I see seven “abilities” that differentiate enchanted objects from smartphones and their apps. This translates into how we learn them and they learn us. Their ability to engender trust, for them to act as respectful agents of our time and attention. The most important: glanceability, gestureability, affordability, wearability, indestructibility, usability, and loveability. “ … What is the process of enchanting an object? What are the steps involved? Are there degrees of enchantment? … This five-step, organized approach to thinking and creating products will deliver on the seven abilities of enchantment… The higher the object climbs on the ladder, the more sophisticated or enchanting it becomes. Not every object need reach the top, but value can be added at each step:

  1. Connection: adding sensing/sensor capabilities by connecting to the cloud.
  2. Personalization: adding and leveraging personal information.
  3. Socialization: adding connections to friends, loved ones, and colleagues.
  4. Gamification: adding the fun and motivational elements of videogames.
  5. Story-ification: adding a human narrative for the product, service, or user.

Examples of Ambient Devices

Ambient Orb

Ambient Orb

Perhaps the best example of an ambient object is the Ambient Orb. A simple 1 pixel display, it has all of these qualities. It is flexible and adaptable giving users a web-based interface to map a range of information sources to changes in light and color. For example, stock prices ups and downs are mapped into shifts from green to red.


Forecast Ambient Umbrella

Forecast Ambient Umbrella

Forecast is an umbrella with a handle that can tell you what the weather is like. It can subtly indicate if you need to take it with you when leaving the house in the morning.

Cryoscope - touchable forecasts

Cryoscope - touchable forecasts

In the same vein, Cryoscope allows you to touch the weather. It allows for simple understanding of temperature through your natural ability to determine hot and cold. The metal slab is simply heated or cooled to the desired temperature. To receive a forecast of tomorrow’s temperature, the user touches the Cryoscope—the device’s surface is cooled or heated to reflect the forecasted temperature.

Ken Kawamoto invented the Tempascope, a device that displays weather forecasts or current weather physically. It physically simulates tomorrow’s weather. If it’s going to rain water drips inside the box, cloudiness is represented by a mist diffuser, and temperature is represented by color-chaning LEDs.

Ken Kawamoto's [Tempascope](

Ken Kawamoto’s Tempascope

Unforms’s Weather Systems

Advertising Agency, Uniform, created these whimsical interfaces to cloud-based weather data. These three internet connected ‘desk-toys’ to give glanceable but playful alerts to changing weather conditions

The first gadgets rotates a color wheel from blue (cold)to red (hot) to show the temperature range outside. The second uses pattering plastic pins to fill your house with the sound of a rainstorm that has yet to start. The faster the pins start moving, the more intense the rain is falling. And the third acts like a digital weather vane, twirling in anticipation of a blustery front ten minutes away.

Finally, and at a much larger scale, Chroma Streams - Tide & Traffic visualizes changes in tidal cycles and urban traffic through light on the underside of a bridge:

Ken Kawamoto's [Tempascope](

Ken Kawamoto’s Tempascope

Chroma Streams is a syntactical structure into which chance patterns of traffic and the predictable tidal cycles of the River Clyde are visually presented and interpreted through a changing montage of colored light. A linear color pattern based on the cool end of the spectrum—ranging from light green to indigo—represents the four distinct cycles of the river’s flow. Traffic engineers graded traffic flow above the bridge into several modes based on speed and volume, and these flows are represented in a palette of six colors on the warm end of the spectrum, from a clear yellow to a strong red/pink. Via sensors installed on streetlight standards, real-time traffic flow data are transmitted to the lighting apparatus and downloaded into a computer program. This programming allows for 144 sequences of discrete color mixes.

Vitality’s [Glow Caps](

Vitality’s Glow Caps

Changing Behavior

Vitality’s Glow Caps connect a pill bottle to online calendars given an ambient visual cue to if you have taken your medication or if you need to. They light up when it nears the time to take your medication and a home hub, typically left in the kitchen also it’s time to take your medicine.

People often struggle to manage budgets with credit and debit cards because they don’t have a visible indication of how much they spend. The Proverbial Wallet can inflate or shrink your wallet to give a tangible cue to the amount of money in your bank account or can make it harder to open your wallet if you’ve gone over budget for the month.

Home Energy

[Glow]( changing color as energy is consumed

Glow changing color as energy is consumed

Glow’s Smart Energy system combines an easy to install home electicity usage monitor with an ambient real-time visualisation of energy use.

… we use the fastest, most intuitive communication medium: color. Color is well studied; it’s lightning quick to understand and is more effective than graphs or numbers throughout day-to-day life. It’s also understandable at all ages making Glow a place the whole family can learn about energy use.

We’ve found through testing that users respond best to a range of colors that go from cool (blue and green) to hot (amber, orange, and red). A glance on your way out the door lets you make sure you’re not wasting energy while you’re away. And when you want numbers and graphs, Glow’s app is just a few taps away.



Show-me gives a visible indication of household water consumption where it matters - in the shower. It attempts to create better water use behaviors by giving clearer indication of how much is being used when in one of the most heavy use water activities - showering. Many other examples of ambient displays create indications of energy use to better manage household spending and to encourage greener behaviors.

Workplace and Productivty

Ishac Bertran’s Discrete Window

The Discrete Window “is a blind that provides visual feedback for a home-office environment about the users’ work activity. As an ambient display, The Discreet Window is a membrane that communicates the work intensity to both the home-office space and the outside. The more the user works, the less light is coming inside the room. Thus, the less visual contact there is between both sides of the window.”

Freek Oliver’s Tangible Email Concept

This tangible and ambient display experiments with embodying email counts through an actuated envelope. Like Breakaway, changes in digital information influence the form of the object. As new email is received, the envelope opens…

Berg’s #flock is “a set of four houses, three contain colourful birds which react to Twitter triggers, the fourth is a simple clock. A new follower, a retweet or an @message will trigger one of the birds to pop out of its house, each with a different movement. Optional birdsong can accompany each action, the volume controlled with a small dial.”

Berg’s [#flock](

Berg’s #flock


Within ambient interfaces, there’s a whole slew of internet connected devices designed as embodied ‘dashboards’ or physical visualisations of digital data. Data Phys maintains an amazing list of these “physical counterparts of data visualization” - from the connected to analog!

These objects include:

(all definitions from


Christian Ferrara and Jon McTaggert’s Pulse is a tangible line graph. Like the Ambient Orb, it can be connected to specific bits of digital data and represent it in real-time. However, it can present a higher fidelity of information - up to 6 points of information - connected in a line by string.

[Tenison Road](

Tenison Road

Microsoft’s Tenison Road explores the use of physical charts to visualize the community polls and live sensor information gathered through connected devices. They’re presented in a local storefront to drive conversation with data throughout the neighbourhood.

The IoT Design Shop produced FizViz an open-sourced “Physical Visualizations of data that present information in a large format, super cool, instantly readable way. The concept is that you’d hang a set of FizViz widgets in your office, workshop, or wherever you want to watch and share data that matters”





A whole slew of new ambient wearables and jewelry is designed to subtly alert you to things you might want to know. Ringly uses vibration and color to give you a cue to apps or notifications on your phone that are important. Cuff (now defunct formerly at and Kovert (now defunct formerly at are very similar

While more of a haptic interface, Disney’s AirReal allows you to experience ‘nudges’ and notifications without instrumentation/wearables through a series of haptic air cannons!

Disney’s AirReal

Disney's [AirReal](

Disney’s AirReal

AIReal is a new low cost, highly scalable haptic technology that delivers expressive tactile sensations in mid air. AIReal enables users to feel virtual objects, experience dynamically varying textures and receive feedback on full body gestures, all without requiring the user to wear a physical device. AIReal is designed to use a vortex, a ring of air that can travel large distances while keeping its shape and speed.