Pairing Away the Touch Screen

by Marcus Martinez

I would like to first consider the framework that could be implied by device pairing, extension of battery life, device mirroring and voice command. All of which may present a new form factor of the hand held device. In other words, liberating the form factor of the phone from the scale of ‘hand to face’ to the scale that is appropriate for long term resilience.

Pairing Sound and Voice

Could the mass customization model create a momentous change? In spite of the myriad of bluetooth single ear headsets, the market for big, vibrant, multicolor, designer headphones could not be stronger. Looking back at the recent 2012 Olympics, with many on the US swim team with multi colored Beats headphones, and Jamaica’s Usain Bolt partnering with SOUL electronics for a line of headphones, we could be convinced that it is simply access to customization will prevail over the mostly black plastic bodies of bluetooth headsets. Perhaps the two demographics don’t mix (business types and trend hunters) or have similar demands. The prevalence of the smart phone has merged uses as a communication device, video, music, reader and gaming platform which creates new demands for sound and interaction.

Screen Shot 2013-02-24 at 6.37.18 PM

The integrated listening and interaction experience has received recent attention from the kickstarter endeavor ‘Elroy’, launched by Timbuk2 founder Rob Honeycutt. The Elroy, namesake of the Jetsons, is an attempt to solve 3 problems: wire management, answering/ending calls, and headset storage. Honeycutt’s team decouples the headset from the phone to the bluetooth Elroy which can clip to a variety of options like a collar or inside jacket pocket. The headphones connect to the bluetooth device that bundles a mic, touch interface, their own ‘activated’ earbuds with shorter cord into a wearable customizable package at the scale of a lighter. While you could use their activated earbuds, there may be a greater intention to connect with the listening experience of your choice like the Beats (or Bose, Soul, Sennheiser etc) headphones for the preferred sound quality in the custom package, and use the mic of the Elroy for voice command to dial, answer calls, read and compose text. Though some compare bluetooth devices like the Sony MW500 which feels circa 90’s discman, with your choice of black or black and a flourish of push buttons; the Elroy has fully customizable touch plates which ride the wave of recent custom headphones, cases, and ringtones, that range from professional, super graphic, to the ‘cat lady’ special.

Miniaturizing and Mirroring


Mirroring devices like the recently launched Pebble has interesting potential. Yet, the E-ink display’s 7 day charge capacity is overlooked when the interaction with the Pebble revisits a button based menu that are less intuitive than the phone it is mirroring.


Shortly after the 6th generation i-pod nano hit the shelves a number of 3rd party accessory developers integrated the square form factor  (1.48  by 1.61 inches) into a watch band ‘case’. Perhaps Apple identified the significance of this as a potential offering and suppressed or delayed this progression by rendering the 7th generation i-pod nano derivative of the 5th generation bar design.

Could the rumored ‘i-phone watch’ and recently launched ‘pebble watch’ refresh our association with these devices? From a design perspective, is migrating the phone from ‘hand held’ to watch a residual response (repurposing of the old) or is it a step toward an immersive experience? Finally, what could this mean to manufacturers, and behaviors?

One perspective might be that the iPhone watch is a step too far; forcing an unnecessary miniaturization of parts, managing heat and battery technology in what might be a bulky package. The Pebble though is a step in the right direction. If these devices would evolve to a simplified touch interface that is familiar to the native phone interface (android, iOS, windows etc) it supports with only the hardware necessary to mirror then it could offer a new design model. How great would it be if it was kinetically charged?

On to the Future

If a watch interface could bridge the gap between the otherwise battery draining routine of turning on the screen for checking email, text, time and calendars. And if we could accept a future of an increasingly sophisticated voice command and recognition software, then accessories like the Elroy could further serve to reconfigure the phone. Together they could be liberate the scale of a handheld device to a remote processors or a reader. In other words, the phone could resemble a small external hard drive that stays in your pocket, purse or backpack that tethers a variety of customizable accessories. The days of a pressing a screen, processor, battery and your choiice of case against your face will be traded with just saying ‘hello’

Slap both together! Is that it?


Image: US Patent Office/Apple

What goes under the radar the is not only the force of the accessory market to influence product development, rather how certain motifs persist. The final example is made possible by Apple’s recent patent application of what appears to take reference of our 80’s slap bracelet. In short, the ‘slap bracelet’ could maintain shape either conforming to a wrist or made flat. In the case of a phone, it could conform to wrists, bag straps, bike handles, lamps, doorhandles, and mugs to name a few. Could this be a ‘check mate’ to accessory makers?


While the ‘slap phone’ has promise, designer Judicael Cornu has designed the ‘bone conduction headphone’. As seen above, one of many iterations that Cornu has designed uses the structure of the body to amplify audible sound waves.  (discovered on )

There Has To Be Something Less

The very success of an accessory market is less an indication that technology needs to be personalized, rather that prevailing devices have declared an indifference to how we use them. Furthermore, the demand for refined ‘objects to behold’ perpetuates a distinct set of predictable habits and problems that entire markets would claim to ‘customize’ away. Unfortunately, moving towards more integrated and immersive technology would also mean that it would blend away, and be unidentifiable…then how would companies set themselves apart? …Better hardware, connectivity, fluent across platforms, languages, knows your habits?

My broad speculation is that many devices are built for obsolescence. Fatigue and fragility of materials, battery limitations, and limited firmware updates play a role in how long we own a device. Yet, more often, we look for new offerings and its promise to be even more seamless then the rest before these have met. To offer a new variety of integrated devices could usher in a new wave of resilient technologies, devices that would be less noticeable, last longer and therefore be more sustainable in material and manufacturing practices. Would anyone be in a hurry to buy what we don’t see? Is consumer demand getting in the way of a seamless future?


10,000 Year Clock

by Amna Ansari


10,000 Year Clock Model – Photo Via The Long Now Foundation

This idea for multi-millennial clock was envisioned by computer scientist Danny Hillis in the mid 1990s, and the idea spearheaded by The Long Now Foundation, which focused on human progress and ‘long-term thinking’ for the next 10,000 years, and continues to today.

An impressive project, as the Stonehenge itself is approximately 4,000 years old. This clock, which is to have an accuracy of only being off by 1 day in 20,000 years, will mark different lengths every, day, year, and a sound every 1,000 years for the next 10,000 years.  The MIT Technology Review explains how the clock will measure time for this long.

Recently in November of 2012, Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos, revealed that he is  funding the clock’s construction, with $42 million of his own money.   There is no clear completion date, but the construction has began in the Sierra Diablo Mountain Range in Texas.

Whether the clock gets built or even works is not what grabs my attention necessarily (although it would be great if it is completed during my lifetime). For myself, the concept of the clock alone is pretty powerful.  To think about the progress of human civilization and its continuation in the next 10,000 years rather than predict what will happen in the next 30-100 years, actually grounds me to reality and locates me spatially in what I know is abstract concept of time.

Blimps of Future Past

by Amna Ansari


Traveling from Frankfurt in 1937, the civilian airship Hindenburg burst into flames while landing in New Jersey.

The first rigid airship was invented in 1900 by Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin of Germany, and has been used for passenger travel and military surveillance, especially during WWII.  However post-war it was mainly used for advertising, a trend that continues to today.

Now these large airships are making a comeback.   With its ability to land and take off vertically and transport heavy cargo to rough terrain on little fuel, the U.S. military has plans for the Aeroscraft: The U.S. Military’s Prototype for a Flying Submarine

Model Structure

by Amna Ansari
As we are experimenting ways in which to visualize and represent larger ideas about cities as a blueprint or framework, I began to look at historical diagrams and model representations for larger concepts, and focused the research around ideas about the universe.  Some of these are simple line diagrams for concepts and beliefs about the universe that were held for centuries, and others are tested and accepted concepts that translate workings of the universe.
One that came to mind was the mandala, a buddhist circular model representing the structure of life starting from the center.  A method of drawing or model building that is also seen as a form of meditation.  This method dates back as far as 1st century B.C.E.
Introduced in 100 AD by Claudius Ptolemy, this model places the Earth at the center of the universe. Planets circulate on respective smaller spheres called epicycle, and these circulate on a larger sphere called deferent, while the stars circulate on the most outer sphere. This belief of the universe was held for approximately 1,300 years.
In 1543 Copernicus introduced the idea of a Heliocentric model placing the sun at the center of the universe, in opposition to the Ptolemaic model, a belief held for centuries which placed the Earth at the center of the universe. In this model the planets revolve around the sun.
In 1851 Leon Foucault built a representational model to demonstrate the rotation of the Earth, using a pendulum that tracks the equators position relative to Earth.  To depict the rotation, the plane of oscillation of the pendulum revolves an X amount of degrees (depending on the location’s latitude) in one full day.  Here a concept is rearticulated through the use of other objects and methods to depict a current and realized concept.  The viewer is reminded of their everyday position in space.

Reference: The Marvels and Mysteries of Science published in 1941.

During this research I was reminded of artist Edward Tufte whose work I saw at MIT during a lecture course, when he was explaining his markings on a beautiful plaque that communicates to other civilizations and extraterrestrial life of our civilization.   Looking further into his work, he is inspired by Feynman Diagrams, which are pictorial representations of the workings of the universe.  These diagrams depict mathematical expressions that govern the behavior of subatomic particles.  Feynman introduced the diagrams in 1948 as a way to understand calculations for QED, quantum electrodynamics.

Reference: America Scientist, Volume 93, Pg. 157
HUBBLE DIAGRAM: Expanding Universe to Big Bang
With the help of Edwin Hubble documenting and plotting distances and velocities of stars, in the 1920s scientists realized that the Universe is not static but rather expanding, which led to further inquiries about the beginnings of the universe, known as the Big Bang. Scientists realized that there may be no center to the universe or cannot yet be determined.   And recently in 1998 it was discovered that the universe is actually expanding at an accelerated rate.  However a full understanding of the universe is still unraveling, as to whether it is finite, infinite, or one of many, and what the fate of the universe will be.

Chassis and Bodies of Power part 1

by Marcus Martinez

Since the early 19th century, inventors and ‘tinkerers’ alike have reworked the arrangement of human power, ergonomics and mechanics combined in the bicycle. The adoption of the bicycle influenced new industries of pneumatic tires, ball bearings, and chain driven sprockets that impacted many fields of knowledge to advance steam power, combustion engines, electric motors, and even flight. As materials evolved from wood, hollow tubes, to carbon fiber so followed the mechanical dynamics and new range of possible speeds, use, and configurations, many of which will be explored in future posts.

The examples in this entry follow a conceptual transformation that seem to revisit three themes: structure as envelope, a mechanical extension, and hybrids that coordinate with the human body’s range in motion for optimal control input or power output, and in some cases consume or reshape the body as to complete the frame to manage weight and aerodynamics.


The ‘Highwheel’ bikes from the 1870’s, sometimes referred as a ‘Penny Farthing’ because of large and small wheel configuration resembling British currency of a large and small coins: the penny and the farthing. Today, bikes are sized calculating your height and leg length;  ‘Highwheels’ however, were sized for the largest wheel your leg reach could accommodate. The larger wheel and its long spokes offered a more comfortable ride, which was a response to the ‘bone shaker’ bicycles which were wood frame and iron wheels that shake the spare change out of any rider on the mostly cobble stone roads. The elevated ride also made for a high center of gravity leading to hard falls, and mounting challenges.

Royal Salvo, Beamish Museum Photostream Flickr

Royal Salvo, Beamish Museum Photostream Flickr

Trikes like the ‘Royal Salvo’ in 1877 responded to the challenges presented by the Penny Farthing. The James Starley’s Royal Salvo positions the rider in a lower to the ground and between two large wheels, could more gracefully ‘step into’ position. Features that became later associated with automobiles like the differential gear, which and rack and pinion steering opened up the machine to a wider audiences including its namesake: Queen Victoria.


The mechanical complexity of the Royal Salvo was a new paradigm of the machine as human interface: the body placed inside the machine, at the center of gravity, chain driven pedals, and steering and differential gears.

Starley’s application of innovative gearing is rooted in his many inventions, including the hand operated ‘Europa’ sewing machine (above). Sewing, mostly done by hand through the mid 1800’s, the sewing machine was one of the first labor saving devices made for the home use. The impact of this machine can be measured by both the interchangeable assembly that enabled mass production and simplified repair. The cultural/consumer impact of these machines produced affordable lines of ready-made affordable clothing.



Countless inventors worked toward the automobile using the framework of the bicycle as their host structure. Gottlieb Daimler’s 1885 contribution of ‘Reitwagen’ or ‘Riding Car’, similar to the rider in the frame, nested the motor with the wooden bicycle chassis. While many argue that Diamler’s ‘Riding Car’ was more motorcycle than automobile, it carried a compounding effect toward the automobile we know today. A year later in 1886, Carl Benz patented the ‘Motor Car’ where Benz concluded that new methods of propulsion also necessitated an entirely new chassis.



Back to bicycles…kind of…bicycle racing is a fascinating intersection of human, machine dynamics, and aerodynamics. The first 1200 meter race in 1868 in Parc de Saint Cloud, Paris, was won on iron wheels connected on a wood frame. In racing, the advantage is achieved in managing drag to maximize pedaling effort. The emphasis on the managing the body’s drag has spurred innovations like the ‘Aerobars’ on triathlon or time-trial bikes to keep the rider in their ‘tucked’ position. These bars are modified to the spec of the user for their optimal position. Like tuning the aerodynamics of a vehicle design, or flaps and rudders of an airplane; bars, gloves, and helmets like the Giro ‘advantage’ and Bell (shown above) are wind tunnel tested and micro-tuning on the helmets controlling the fore and aft position of the helmet on the head for peak performance. Some riders will even glue their numbers to their jersey to minimize drag.


So, how far have these interest in aerodynamics gone? In the late 1970’s, American aeronautical engineer Dr. Paul B. MacCready’s AeroVironment co opted the function of a geared frame to direct pedal power instead of two wheels to a two bladed propeller to create the first human powered flight beginning with the Gossamer Condor in 1977, and shortly after, the Gossamer Albatross, which crossed the English Channel in 1979. The rider is less confined by their position and shape within the mylar enclosure which was centrally oriented in the 97.7 foot wingspan, totalling an empty weight of 77lbs by virtue of a lightweight body constructed of carbon fiber, polystyrene, and mylar.


Finally, toward a more virtual civilization of Tron (1982, 2010’s Tron Legacy, and the upcoming sequel) are the memorable ‘Light Cycles’. These too have had an interesting evolution across the movie franchise. In the first generation light cycle, the rider would be involuntarily forced into position and covered by canopy. The ‘Tron Legacy’ light cycle gets interesting iteration in the boarding sequence. The rider with a ‘baton’ in hand would run and leap with the baton held with both hands like a bike handle, as the bike materializes (digitally?). The body of the cycle is imposed over the spine of the rider at a minimal tolerance as to ‘pin down’ the rider. The body panel coordinates with a helmet closely resembling the Giro ‘advantage’ helmet, together the two features merge as one aerodynamic mass.

There’s so much more to talk about, and this entry is only touching on far reaching narratives in engineering, innovation, and social mechanisms. This is part of a multiple entry series which will later include my own attempts in this broad field of the future and mobility.

Structuring Infrastructure Part I

by Amna Ansari

This post will continuously be updated with new findings and observations.

antonio sant-elia futurist

Citta Nuova
Italian Architect Antonio Sant’Elia was part of the Futurist Movement in 1912s, during which time he created some fascinating drawings of a possible future with monolithic buildings depicting a highly industrialized society.  In some of his drawings one can note a future concept of a multi-level transportation infrastructure and its integration with buildings.


How you may live and travel in the city of 1950.
“Future city streets, says Mr. Corbett, will be in four levels: The top level for pedestrians; the next lower level for slow motor traffic; the next for fast motor traffic, and the lowest for electric trains. Great blocks of terraced skyscrapers half a mile high will house offices, schools, homes, and playgrounds in successive levels, while the roofs will be airplane landing fields, according to the architect’s plan.”

Architect Harvey W. Corbett believed in planning for a future integrating freeways and landing strips with buildings for growing dense city centers, and did not believe in dencentralization of large cities.

Popular Science August 1925

minority-report-maglev-1340241758Minority Report 
A 2002 film based on a Philip K. Dick short story.  The movie portrays D.C. and the future as absolutely monitored by police with full scale (spanning time) public surveillance that one could assume supported by commercialism (i.e. biotagged personalized shopping identities).  Thus it naturally make sense why traffic infrastructure is imagined as magnetic tracks with vehicles that can be remotely controlled.  What is interesting here is the ability of the vehicles to switch directions and orientation and the infrastructure to accommodate these dual modes while integrating with city buildings.  The ground is dedicated to regular type vehicles.

Taking the opportunity to give a nod to John Underkoffler of MIT and others at MIT Media Lab who envisioned the interfaces of the computer systems for the PreCrime unit.  You can find his TED lecture here:


Total Recall 2012 
A 2012 film based on yet another Philip K. Dick short story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale.  Having recently watched it is what inspired looking into and documenting previous infrastructure theories.  In Total Recall magnetic tracks allow vehicles to utilize both sides of the infrastructure, either being held from above or below.  This multi-level, and efficient, use of infrastructure could have the potential of dedicating one side to passenger vehicles and the other for emergency and delivery vehicles, or whatever is deemed appropriate.  Unlike other imagined futures, the freeways or traffic support systems, run in between or above buildings.  Similar to Minority Report, the ground is dedicated to regular type vehicles.

A Constantly Changing Type

Our timeline below documents the parking garage which has been profoundly transformed by building technique, behaviors towards mobility, and the automobile industry. The garage is overwhelmingly characterized by its vacancy and lack of elements which make it a subject to material experimentation with sculptural cast in place concrete structures like the Temple Street Garage by Paul Rudolph, and precast structural screens like the Welbeck Street Garage by Michael Blampied in 1970. Between those moments however, are the ones we are most familiar with; the sloped floors, dim lighting, shallow sections with a spatial air that cinema captures as a space for the perfect crime, conspiring rendezvous.  More on its history later…