Smart Objects May Soon Start Talking And Interacting With Humans
May 1, 2013

Smart Objects May Soon Start Talking And Interacting With Humans

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

Penn State researchers say as people keep embracing smart devices, society will begin to accept other, stranger objects such as talking tissue boxes.

The researchers said at the 2013 Annual Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI2013) that the next phase of smart objects is that these devices will start talking and interacting with humans. They want to determine the best ways for objects to communicate with humans in the future.

"Smart objects will become more and more a part of our daily lives," said S. Shyam Sundar, Distinguished Professor of Communications and co-director of the Media Effects Research Laboratory.

The researchers said as sensors and computers become cheaper, smart objects will appear in more homes and offices. Eventually, smart refrigerators could be talking to owners or sending a signal when certain food items are almost out or when the milk is about to expire.

"We regularly communicate with objects by collecting data from those objects," said Haiyan Jia, doctoral candidate in mass communications, who worked with Sundar. "But we wanted to test what happens when objects talk directly to us in a social situation."

For their study, the researchers videotaped participant´s reactions as they interacted with a talking box of tissues that was on a desk in the laboratory. Once a laboratory worker sneezed, the box said "Bless You," then added "Here, take a tissue" and "Take care!" They said the participants found the talking tissue box just as human-like and as autonomous as a talking robot also used in the study.

The team also invited the 63 participants to play some cognitive games in the study, as well as fill out a questionnaire about the lab environment, including the smart objects.

"This study shows that speech is a social cue," said Sundar. "It may be enough to make the objects more social and not necessarily more human-like in appearance."

Jia said future research should be done in order to determine if people will strongly connect with these objects and if long-term exposure to smart objects change people's attitudes towards them over time.

Researchers at the University of Exeter recently developed a new flexible and transparent photoelectric device that is able to convert electrical signals by taking advantage of a pair of recently discovered materials.