Google Little Signals wants to make notifications less disruptive with air puffs and moving shadows

Why it matters: Tackling the stressful barrage of daily notifications can be a little tricky. However, Google has revealed an interesting experiment that aims to gently communicate this information through subtle changes in the environment. Dubbed Little Signals, the interaction design study uses six different modules that produce chimes, blow puffs of air, and tap nearby objects to get the user’s attention. Given its experimental nature and the fact that it’s being undertaken by Google, Little Signals may never be more than a passion project, but it could potentially play a role in how we interact with digital devices in a connected future.

Google says Little Signals is a design study that explores how humans could stay up to date with digital information while maintaining “quiet moments”. The experiment envisions new ways to interact and relate to technology by making subtle changes to the environment to provide information, similar to how a whistle of a kettle or the moving hands of a clock keep us informed.

The idea is implemented through six different modules, each communicating in a distinct way. The first is Air, which can spin and generate pulses of air to interact with objects. Imagine sitting in your living room and receiving an email notification as Air gently moves the leaves of a nearby plant.

Next is Button, a module that grows as it receives more information and chimes when full. Its top can be twisted to the right to reveal more details about an event or twisted to the left for less information. The third module, called Motion, uses a series of pegs for graphical representation of things like a calendar or a timer. These pegs can work individually or in groups and can be used as dismissing a notification.

The fourth module, Rhythm, produces ambient sounds with varying tones and melodies depending on the urgency of the event. This puck-shaped module sits on a flat base and can be flipped or shaken to mute/ignore an incoming notification.

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The fifth module, Shadow, is perhaps the most subtle of them all as it communicates via shadows by breathing or stretching its mushroom-like top. The purpose and effectiveness of this mod is slightly questionable, given that it’s likely to only work in well-lit environments. Nonetheless, Google says it’s intended to respond to a user’s presence.

The sixth and final object is Tap. A fairly simple device that creates sounds by physically tapping nearby objects and surfaces. The intensity of the taps corresponds to the urgency of a notification.

Google Little Signals wants to make notifications less disruptive with

Google says the Little Things experience is based on Calm Technology, which examines evolving technology trends, including pervasive computing. The project is a collaboration between Google Seed Studio and Map Project Office.

For those interested in interaction design, Google has also shared code and guides for all six objects so users can configure and interact with their own Arduino-powered devices.

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