How iPads, phones & sensors will redefine our homes

Biome6_SamuelWilkinson

Last week while on my travels through the Internet, I came across Biome Smart Terrarium. A terrarium, by the way, is a miniature landscape with plants (and animals). I am fascinated by these micro worlds. Typically, I would look at the beautiful pictures and move on.

But what got my attention was the fact that this Terrarium was controlled by an iPad or a smartphone. It was a sensor-based micro world, connected to the network. An artful marriage of physical living and digital worlds, the terrarium could be a precursor for what home and gardens could become in the age of connectedness.

Tony Fadell with his thermostat and his startup Nest have already kicked off the ultimate home makeover. It is only a matter of time before we start to see a rush of devices that marry the physical and the digital worlds and thus bring about a whole new level of interactivity.

What is Biome and how does it work?

Biome is a flora terrarium that works a little like a live tamagotchi, and it is the brain child of product designer Samuel Wilkinson. It has low-energy lighting built into the terrarium, which also has sensors that are in turn connected to a smartphone or iPad that is used to control its climate, water level and nutrients. “It is designed to incorporate different types of environment — tropical, desert, even herb garden — and can be easily controlled by even the least green-fingered of users,” a press release notes.

As I wrote in my recap of last week’s GigaOM RoadMap conference, to me connectedness is a transformative force, and this terrarium is an embodiment of that force. This marriage of the analog and digital worlds shows that in the future everything will be connected. Terrarium’s creator Wilkinson (follow him on Twitter) is one of the world’s foremost product designers. The London-based designer has worked for companies such as LG, Samsung and Virgin Airways and has his own design studio.

He has come up with some astonishing designs, such as Plumen, an energy-saving light bulb, that has been drawing praise from around the world. I emailed Wilkinson to find out how he came up with the idea of this iPad-controlled terrarium. Wilkinson says that the idea for Biome came when he got an invitation to participate in an exhibition called Slow Tech.

New Slow Tech

The concept of the Slow Tech exhibition was that with increasing connectivity, we were going to need digital downtime, which in essence is the need to have a break from being connected. There is a school of thought that believes that being connected inhibits creativity and thus our brains need some downtime away from screens to become generally more efficient and rested.

“I wanted to design something that did not force you to put down your device, but encourages a less immediate response, something that over time will be gratifying and rewarding,” says Wilkinson. “The main thought was that if the terrarium became a charger that when you connect, it disables the device from other connections and only allows the terrarium connection (plus a re-charge) so that over time you get a therapeutic reward for un-connecting for one or two hours a day.”

“New devices have become purely ‘personal assistants’ that fit into our lives rather than the other way around. Future of technology is to become far more immersed and subtle, even hidden. Something that is so intuitive that when used it is so natural we don’t even register the use,” says Wilkinson.

The Biome is a perfect example of it. Unless you know that an iPad is being used to control the terrarium, it looks like any other micro-scape: cool, serene and utterly charming.

PS: I just posted a shareable version of this on my blog here.

 
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