A few minutes with Pritesh Gandhi

The Ambient Orb
looks like nothing
more than a frosted
glass ball that rests on
a desktop and glows in various
colors. But an object that
resembles an accessory displays
complex and useful information,
such as stock
quotes and weather forecasts.
It’s one of several devices
offered by Ambient Devices,
a spinoff from the
Massachusetts Institute of
Technology’s Media Lab.

The company’s leaders
say its mission is to convey
as much information as possible
through the simplest
means. Their term for it is
glanceable information. According
to Ambient, most
electronic devices offer too
much information to be
interpreted quickly. The
company’s latest product is
an energy-specific version of
the Ambient Orb, which
tracks energy prices. We
spoke with Pritesh Gandhi,
Ambient’s founder and
vice president of
operations.

FCW: How did you
come up with the orb
as a device for conveying
complex information simply
and intuitively?


GANDHI: The orb was created
to achieve several design objectives.
We wanted to make
dynamic information instantly
accessible with minimal cognitive
friction. We wanted to
eliminate usability constraints
and repeated navigational
steps to access frequently
used information.
Both problems are endemic
to most information devices
and navigation schemes. The
orb succeeds by placing current
information in the user’s
immediate environment, without
requiring intensive
attention.

FCW: How do the orbs convey information?

GANDHI: The devices glow a
different color, depending on
how information is received.
They don’t do anything other
than glow. There is a key for
the devices that tell you the
state of the data you’re reading.
For example, your device
might pulse and be blue. Each
has a different key.

FCW: How do the orbs receive that information?

GANDHI: We have partnerships
with a bunch of different
companies. We take information
about real-time usage
in any particular area and
broadcast that information
via a long-range wireless network,
which delivers the information
to these devices.
The devices themselves are
simply receivers. Think of
them as individual radios.
They are powered through a
wall outlet. The orb can display
virtually any information
that is published on the
Internet.

FCW: How does the energy orb work?

GANDHI: In Los Angeles today,
for example, if an event
occurs that increases the
price of energy, certain utility
companies make that information
available, and the energy
orb displays it by glowing
[red, for example].

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