I have seen the future and it will be well lit. That’s according to European electronics giant Philips, whose Applied Technologies division invited me to an open day for journalists on Tuesday.
The day featured a tour of mocked-up, every-day scenarios under a general theme of ‘care’, which were designed to demonstrate various technologies and how they integrate with each other. This included a hospital room of the future, a hotel room and a pre-natal clinic, and was followed by a tour of their ‘high street of the future’, in which technologies were shown in various retail and domestic settings. The clever use of light and light-related technologies featured in almost all of these.
The hotel room scenario struck me as being the most impressive in terms of both flashy technology and end-user usefulness. In the scenario, a businesswoman is shown arriving at a hotel for the night. Her room has been fitted with a Daylight Window with Personal Mood display, which the guest controls by standing at the window and moving her arms: there is no computer keyboard or mouse. By interacting with the ‘window’ the guest can create an image across its length and breadth and alter that image to let in different amounts and colours of light. In the example I saw it was the branches of a tree, which ‘grew’ across the window and could be made more or less dense, just by the sweeping action of an arm (see the first photo).
If this seems a bit superfluous to you, there is a more practical use of the light technology. Our aforementioned businesswoman, tired, and suffering from stress and jet-lag, is able to sit in a corner of the window and indulge in a kind of ‘light bath’ (see second photo). Based on research from Chicago’s Northwestern University, which has suggested that such ‘blue light therapy’ can shorten jetlag recovery times, the Philips concept incorporates this idea of the therapeutic effects of light into its vision of the future.
In this scenario, light is being used as a way to make people feel better and enhance their mood. This is quite interesting in as much as it represents a slight fork in the standard route for ambient computing, where the emphasis is often on getting computers to complete or assist with a task such as opening a door. In this scenario, the functionality is new and aspirational.
This strategy may reflect some of the changes that Philips has undergone in recent years. Through reorganisation and shedding of parts of the business, like its silicon chip development wing, the company has refocused on what might be called the ‘softer’ side of technology. It believes that its future growth will come from merging its traditional strengths in areas like medical technologies and lighting into new, ambient solutions that work with users unobtrusively. We are going to see a lot more about the use of light in the next few years.