The Retrospective

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Interactive Projection You Can Wear

April 7th, 2009 by

Imagine a device that can comprehend what you are holding, identify specific hand gestures, and even decode the physical make-up of any given object. At this February’s TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) convention, Pattie Maes and brainy MIT student Pranav Mistry debuted a working prototype that can do all of the above. Technology is now free to move about the cabin in previously unimagined directions.

The annual TED convention is one of the biggest networking events of the year. Hosted in Long Beach, it gives the average person 18 minutes to verbalize his or her life’s work (commonly termed “the talk of your life”), or to cast an amazing idea to avidly listening ears. This year Maes and Mistry created quite a stir amongst the convention’s 50 speakers and guests and received an impressive (and atypical) standing ovation for their work.

The prototype for the sixth sense was built from an ordinary web cam and a battery-powered 3M projector with an attached mirror — all connected to an Internet-enabled mobile device. This device, which costs less than $350 to create from scratch, allows the user to project information from the mobile device onto any surface — walls, the body of another person, airline tickets, the daily newspaper, your hand, or even your wrist should you need a wristwatch in a pinch.


It’s commonly accepted that humans have five tactile senses that gather information from our surroundings to help us understand what’s happening around us. With Maes and Mistry’s innovative way of viewing our environment we can access a teeming pool of virtual information and organically interpret and project it before us to digitally create the sixth sense. Moreover, the information we project is fully interactive. Mistry demonstrates how a user can play with sixth sense’s information by using multi-colored pen caps on his fingertips. The device interprets the caps on his fingers then casts the colors onto the wall with paintbrush-like strokes, allowing Mistry to draw and move elaborate pictures in the space before him.

This technology opens up a whole new world for exploration and would revolutionize our daily routines. You might open up a newspaper and see live video cast upon the sheet, or browse books at a local bookstore, unsure as to which to choose until you display the book cover to sixth sense and are provided with a projection of’s average book rating. With so much technology being replicated to the point of monotony, I’m sure that this will cause quite a stir.


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  • 1 Ron Dec 13, 2015 at 12:15 pm

    I would applaud the dscroveiy and development of sixth sense if I knew that it had a philanthropic basis or inspiration, but to me it seems like a bunch of bells and whistles that will only end up causing students and teachers to day-dream, interrupt the decision-making process by adding a distracting interface, and literally lead to a loss of focus or ability to concentrate on the task at hand. A similar example, although one in which the technology is of practical use, is the recent development of flight pilot helmets which have the capability of providing similar functions, which include the provision of ground and radar information in one eye, and which interprets gestures for missile guidance. In this case, it provides vital survival information and keeps the pilot in a state of increased vigilance. Unfortunately, certain pilots can never adjust to this type of sensory input and others require a great deal of training to use it successfully and safely. Why would we introduce a form of computer vision to students which will additionally tax their attentional resources, interfere with ongoing awareness of the classroom environment, and which, to my knowledge, have yet to provide any real informational value beyond what could be provided by traditional means. When considering the flexibility of children’s minds and the plasticity which they demonstrate towards the integration of technology, it seems even more dangerous to toy around with this computer-human interface technology at early ages. The current multi-media, internet generation has evolved to multi-task and demonstrate technological intuition (positive outcomes), but also pose increasing challenges to educators and demonstrate decreasing attention spans and motivation towards learning. Let’s try to avoid more of the same. Let this technology be used in an assisting manner to those with special needs, for example, where greater good can be done.