Ambient Furniture was a suite of smart furniture products that researcher David Rose conceived of and I prototyped at the MIT Media Lab. The idea was to explore ways that we could subtly and seamlessly embed technology in everyday, household objects to provide us with richer interactions, while requiring minimal demands on our attention.
This first concept that I prototyped was the "Skype Cabinet", which consisted of two remotely connected armoires with a "magic" shelf that could automatically initiate a video chat to the other unit when approached. Normally there are a lot of barriers to entry when initiating a video chat; the two parties first have to coordinate a time in advance, turn on the computer, log in to Skype, find the other person in his contact list, and start the call. With the Skype Cabinet, no advance coordination is necessary; when a user walks anywhere near the cabinet, her presence is detected, causing the remote cabinet to glow, and vice versa. This gives both parties an "ambient awareness" of the other's availability to chat. Further, to initiate a chat, one simply has to open the cabinet door, and the other person will appear as a "floating head" within the cabinet. It's almost as if the two parties had just bumped into each other in the living room.
The Skype Cabinet prototype consisted of two modified IKEA cabinets with embedded electronics including a Mac Mini, an Arduino, an LED strip, an ultrasonic sensor, a magnetic reed sensor, a small screen, and a webcam situated behind a half-silvered mirror.
I further prototyped a "Google Latitude Doorbell" that would use unique sounds to alert someone at home when a family member was on his way home and was within 50 miles, 10 mile, and 1 mile of the home.