When Pranav Mistry of MIT’s Media Lab showcased to the world his groundbreaking SixthSense technology, everyone said this was going to be the next big thing. It was the 2009 Invention of the Year and the most exciting part about it, it was going to be open source. With the code available to a whole community of hackers, we would see all sorts of interesting uses for the technology in no time. Three years later, no code, and no talk of SixthSense hitting the market any time soon.
Like so many great inventions, turning an idea into reality, especially into a ubiquitous reality, takes time and patience. Bringing the impressive fictional technology from Minority Report to our fingertips, Mistry found a way to bridge the gap between intangible digital information and the tangible world.
In case you’ve never heard of SixthSense, it essentially allows you to access information from the Internet and project that information on any surface, including your hand. It reads human gestures and turns any surface into an interactive screen. It senses objects around you, reads your hand gestures and immediately displays relevant information.
So let’s say you’re at the grocery store and want to find out more about a certain brand of cereal, SixthSense will display in real-time any additional information on the product you’re holding. Lost? Take a picture of your surroundings by forming a frame with your hands and locate yourself on Google Maps. Wondering what time it is? Draw a circle on your wrist and a holographic watch will appear with the precise time.
The same way hosted Exchange acts as one-stop email and collaboration tool for businesses, SixthSense turns the Internet into a sixth human sense.
The technology has progressed steadily since its inception. Evolving from an awkward helmet with a projector attached to it to a tiny depth-sensing camera, similar to the one used on Xbox’s Kinect, SixthSense has come a long way. But if you, like me, are squirming in the backseat asking “Are we there yet”, no… we still have a ways to go.
Why We’re Waiting
So back in his riveting TedIndia talk in 2009, Mistry announced his intention to make the code for his SixthSense technology open-source.
“People will be able to make their own hardware. I will give them instructions how to make it. And also provide them key software…give them basic key software layers. . . they will be able to build their own applications. They will be able to modify base level and do anything”.
In February 2011, Macleans journalist, Jesse Brown, called up Mistry to ask the question on everyone’s mind: “Dude, what’s taking so long?”
Mistry’s reply: “Things take time.”
To start, the code is not ready yet. The prototype was built by hacking proprietary Microsoft code libraries and Mistry and his team are still in the process of writing new code from scratch.
Another obstacle that could be delaying progress is the actual marketing of the product. Making money from SixthSense was never Mistry’s reason for developing it. “SixthSense is not a product, it’s a vision.”
But with the MIT Media Lab’s high-profile sponsors: Samsung, Intel and Google, this humble inventor may be getting pulled in all kinds of directions. The companies funding the project have royalty-free license rights, in perpetuity, to patents registered during their period of sponsorship.
No news has yet been revealed as to what Google or the other sponsors have planned for the technology, and aside from their names being mentioned in the Macleans interview with Mistry, the SixthSense sponsors seem to be keeping their involvement on the DL.
The Future Is.. Still In The Future
The possibilities for SixthSense technology are wide. From conducting research in real-time, teaching, playing games, watching movies, making phone calls, snapping photos, the device is incredibly versatile and shows enormous potential which could eventually stir a lot of competition across many industries. In a forum I was reading, a poster mentions how the fact that SixthSense accesses the cloud to recommend products, companies will need to submit to the cloud in order for their products to have favorable ratings. Surely there will be many implications to consider. But for now, just as people questioned the measurable impact of augmented reality, the future of SixthSense remains a prospect of a distant future.