I love my smartphone, but I fear he's not long for the world. Having the Internet in my pocket is nice and all, but it's just not as convenient as it could be. When you're shopping at the grocery store, stopping to search for where you can find the best price on every item is way more of a pain in the ass than it's worth. Having a smartphone helps you to integrate information from the Internet into your daily life, but it does it in a clunky, inefficient way.
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Enter the Sixth Sense, a lifestyle device developed by a team at MIT. The 'Sixth Sense' is a wearable projector, webcam, and mirror that link wirelessly with a 3G smartphone (or netbook) kept close by on your person. When you wear the Sixth Sense it uses the camera to take in information from the world around you, runs searches based on that information, and delivers its findings back to you via projector.
In essence, the Sixth Sense puts the whole of the Internet at your fingertips. When you look at a person, it will search for any relevant data it can find on them and display it for you in a word cloud on their chest. That's not the end of the possibilities with this thing. Here's an example; you're out shopping, you pick up a box of soda, and the Sixth Sense instantly scans the product and projects where in your area you can find it for cheaper.
Those two examples don't really even start to describe the implications that a device like the Sixth Sense has. Having a Sixth Sense means you've got 100% full time access to Wikipedia without needing to pull out your phone or open your laptop. Any relevant information the Internet has on a situation will be accessed instantly and displayed in real-time for you to review.
Some of you already know about the Sixth Sense. When Pattie Maes and Pranav Mistry debuted it during a TED Talk a lot of people in the tech industry stood up and listened. From the buzz online, it sounds like a couple of companies have already started working on ways to make the technology profitable.
Right now, building a Sixth Sense out of commercial components costs about $350. If we see a commercial device built off of this technology in the next two or three years, it'll probably retail in the sub-$500 dollar range. I'm thinking they'll be marketed in much the same way as netbooks are, as "mobile-everywhere" devices. You'll probably be able to hook your Sixth Sense up to either your smartphone, or your netbook, I can't imagine switching between the two would be very difficult.
The Sixth Sense right now is too ugly and clunky to be marketed to a mass environment. A huge heavy pendant isn't going to catch on with anyone not still trapped in the disco era. What will work is something that looks like a Bluetooth headset but contains the webcam and projector/mirror needed. That is something I could see easily sold in droves, even if it was slightly larger than most current Bluetooth headsets.
I think we'll probably see the first solid rumors of mass-market Sixth Sense device before Q2 2010. More than likely, we'll have at least a couple on the open market by 2011.
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It boggles the mind a bit to think about what kind of impact technology like this is going to have on the development of the next generation. Our kids will grow up in a world where the Internet is at their fingertips every moment of every day. The Internet will cease to feel like a separate communication medium, and become almost another layer of reality itself. It sounds a little out there now, but inventions like the Sixth Sense convince me that it can't be too far off.