- 13 January 2023
- 3 minutes
Thinking beyond smart
“Smart” technologies aim to make life easier and more streamlined for individuals through a combination of intelligence, automation, connectivity, and efficiency. This “smart” ethos has dominated the vision of the future of technology. However, it has not always taken wider implications – for society, the planet, human health and well-being – into account.
The fourth edition of the OPPO x RCA studio project challenged students from the School of Design to think beyond previous conceptions of “smart” technology to conceive of innovative communication technologies in a holistic way for greater societal good.
Re-evaluating our relationship with technology
The brief with OPPO asked students to question the value of technology and reframe its purpose across all scales and points of view. They were tasked with envisaging technology products or services that deliver personal fulfillment as well as systemic good.
This approach demanded a shift of perspective from individual smart products to entire ecosystems. Many factors were considered, from ways to create systems that are both intelligent and promote empathy, to balancing convenience with privacy and digital wellbeing. The students were also challenged to consider sustainable production and consumption models, including innovation in materials and regenerative potential along the chain of manufacture and product life cycles.
Speculative design meets real-world innovation
The studio project provided the opportunity to work closely with OPPO – a world leader in smart device manufacture and innovation – exploring new directions for devices and technologies relating to the Internet of Things (IoT), wearable technologies and smart display. The development of their ideas was supported through tutorials and feedback from OPPO teams and RCA academic staff. This enabled students to develop forward thinking, speculative design proposals based on the latest real-world innovations.
Alon Meron, project lead (RCA) commented: “Working with industry teams opens a rare window for students into the workings of the industry, broadening their contextual understanding and informing them on design and production processes, priorities and directions for development. This is a space of exquisite creative tension, where unrestricted curiosity meets state of the art tech-knowledge and industry insights”.
“This is a space of exquisite creative tension, where unrestricted curiosity meets state of the art tech-knowledge and industry insights.”Tutor, Design Products
Three visions for the future of smart technology
The final proposals were exhibited at London Design Festival 2022. Three projects were selected as winners and shared a £10,000 prize:
- Sountex – a device that enables reading and listening simultaneously in real-time.
- ModuLens – a sustainable, modular AR hardware system designed to reduce e-waste.
- Data Capsule – an app that turns user's data into an AR experience, permanently projected onto the geographic location where it happened.
SOUNTEX – Your (immersive) reading companion
Anusha Balakrishnan, Design Products, and Rohan Sahay, Design Products
There is something nice about reading a book, especially winding down in the evening and sitting down with your book. This project focuses on enriching this experience by reflecting on the benefits of audiobooks alongside the tangible aspects of reading a physical book.
Sountex is a device that could be attached to books to enable reading and listening simultaneously in real-time. It's called Immersion Reading and that's what it does: immerse you in a story by scanning and narrating the text as you read. It sparks an extra connection that boosts engagement, comprehension, and retention, taking you deeper into the book.
Zhaoning (Jony) Yuan, Design Products
Millions of tonnes of e-waste are generated every year worldwide. Paradigms around sourcing and production must change and the next generation of consumer electronics ought to reflect that.
ModuLens reduces the environmental burden by creating a more sustainable AR hardware ecosystem and reducing the massive amount of e-waste caused by rapid iteration.
With its modular design, users can replace broken parts, upgrade or enhance the device's performance to suit their needs.
Yutong Wang, Design Products
Data Capsule App is a way to turn user's valuable data into a fun AR experience, permanently projected on the geographic location where it happened. Your future self, close contacts, descendants, anyone granted access to the capsule are able to come back to the location and view the data legacy you left behind in the environment.
Users are encouraged to manage, curate and streamline their personal data before they use the data capsule storage service. Less data stored allows companies to save on server and energy costs and leads users to adopt a more selective approach to data storage.
Also of interest
This month, the Royal College of Art (RCA) celebrates a successful three-year partnership with world leading smart device manufacturer and innovator OPPO as students showcase the latest in a series of studio projects in collaboration with OPPO during London Design Festival 2021.