Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Interactive Mirror technology: New York Times

Information is everywhere — in the world, in your home, everywhere. In today’s pair of videos from my visit to The New York Times Co.’s R&D Lab, Brian House, The Times Co.’s Creative Technologist for R&D, demonstrates the Lab’s, reflection of that idea — in the form of a data-bearing mirror.

The device (working name: “the magic mirror”) uses Microsoft’s Kinect motion-sensing technology to read physical cues from its user; it uses voice recognition technology to detect verbal cues. (In the videos, you’ll hear House talk to the mirror, Snow White-style.) The mirror also uses the the Times’ powerful APIs to serve up information on-demand.

The device, within its notional home, would replace the standard bathroom mirror. And like the R&D Lab’s screen-topped table, it’s all about bringing a new kind of intimacy to the news experience. You can use it, say, to browse Times headlines, or watch Times videos, while you’re brushing your teeth.

You can use it to schedule events on your personal calendar, or to shop online, or to exchange messages — from the classic “buy milk” on up — with other members of your household.

While the mirror is capable of serving (relatively) traditional forms of content — individual articles, videos, etc. — via its screen functionality, even more striking is its experimentation with information that has, directly, very little to do with the Times itself.

In exploring the realms of health and commerce alongside more standard editorial content, the Times Co. is hinting at the products we might see when news organizations expand their scope beyond the news itself.

Essentially, the mirror fuses news — and, in this case, a highly branded, New York Times experience of the news — with all the other forms of data that we encounter in our daily lives. Again, the “information shadow” idea.

By building a device that is both a screen and a mirror, the R&D Lab can experiment with the ways to combine the personal and the informational in ways that (it hopes!) aren’t intrusive, but rather helpful and, in that, welcome.

This is The New York Times Company acting not just as a curator of information about the wider world, but also as a curator of the information that punctuates, and complicates, and in some sense defines its customers’ personal lives.

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