We live in a world filled with “smart” objects – everyday items that, thanks to technology, can do more than their originally-intended purpose – from phones that can send email, access the Internet or video chat, or kitchen utensils that will tell you when you’re eating too fast. But what if your home itself was so smart that it knew where you were at every single moment of the day, just by feeling where you’re standing?
Scientists Patrick Baudisch and his team at the Hasso Plattner Institute in Potsdam, Germany, have created a pressure-sensitive floor that can not only tell where people are from where they’re standing, but also who they are by recognizing weight. The floor also has the ability to track movements and display video for the people standing on the floor to interact with, just in case you ever wanted to freak your more gullible guests out by turning the very thing that they’re standing on into something else entirely.
Baudisch and team built the prototype floor, “GravitySpace,” at roughly 26 square feet of 2.5-inch thick glass to test the potential for a smart floor. The floor is coated in a rubbery film that can detect minute changes in pressure which are recorded by infrared LEDs surrounding the entire floor, sending a signal to a camera under the surface. All of that information is captured by software running on a computer that can analyze the information and “recognize” what the object exerting the pressure actually is, and respond in whatever way is deemed appropriate. For example, if multiple people are standing around, a video may be generated directly onto the floor to start a sort of video game. Baudisch explains that “this pressure sensor is of such high resolution that the floor can recognize anything from shoe prints to fabric textures to someone’s knees.”
There is more to this invention that video games or creating particularly exciting dance floors, however (That said, someone should really give the “smart dance floor” idea some thought); New Scientist quotes New York University’s Ken Perlin as describing GravitySpace as “extremely exciting research,” going on to say that “the future of computer interfaces is to become more sensitive to people’s needs. A floor that understands where you are and what you are doing is a logical step in that direction.”
Of particular interest is a smart floor’s potential use in the homes of the elderly or the disabled, where the whereabouts and mobility of those in the home could be of particular importance in certain circumstances. Just think: With this technology, the floor could become some people’s window to the outside world.