Google’s Little Signals concepts show what ‘surrounding’ messages might look like

Google has shown a “design study” in ambient computing with a number of objects that can subtly deliver messages through pressure, gentle breezes and changing shadows (shout out to Rim alumnus Dieter Bohn for tweets this to our attention). The company calls the experiment Little Signals and says it explores “quiet computing” or ways to stay up to date without having your phone ring a notification bell and turn on a screen.

Google has six objects in the Little Signals collection: Air, Button, Movement, Rhythm, Shadow and Tap. It shows concepts of how the devices could look in its video (as you can see above) and explains what they all do on its website, though the descriptions may go a little too far into poetry for my liking. For example, the button supposedly “combines scale and sound to communicate and provide control. The top twists – right for more details, left for less – and grows as it receives information. It plays a tone when full.” I’m … not quite sure what the twist is about and the video does not really show it (although someone boops the button at the end of the video).

It’s not surprising that Google is toying with the idea of ‚Äč‚Äčambient computing – it’s been talking about the concept for years, adding small elements to some of its devices. And while Google’s partner for this project calls it a series of “interaction experiments and thought starters,” you can actually make it something real. Google gives instructions on how to put the electronics and code together to build a fan that tells you about the weather and some tips on how to make the other objects. It even provided 3D files for each object for those who want to figure out how to integrate the electronics themselves. The files can be downloaded as a zip from the Little Signals website.

Google’s sample project is not quite as aesthetic as the one in the video.
Image: Google

I have to be completely honest – with how busy and locked to a computer screen I have when I work, a light breeze just is not enough to warn me unless it comes from an air horn that starts. And my attention has been so shattered by an entire life with the internet that there is zero percent chance that I will notice subtle differences in what kind shade something caster (though that’s probably the exact problem Google is trying to bring to light with this experiment).

That said, I can think of little ways I could use a few of these, especially the one with all the little sticks. If I put it on my bedside table, I could make it tell me if I had left some of the light on downstairs before I go to bed, and give me a rough approximation of the temperature outside when I wake up. I also think that the faucet could be useful as a kitchen clock for tasks where you just need to know when e.g. your dough has spent enough time to rise, or the chicken has been adequately marinated.