The Sixth Sense

Written by: Rom Villarica

Illustration by: Sung Hee Bae

The word “innovate” is derived from novare, which means “to make new” in Latin. Consequently, it should be no surprise that innovations are, more often than not, exemplifications of outside-the-box thinking. Occasionally, though, an idea comes along that is extremely innovative, yet extraordinarily difficult to make usable. In 2010, inventor Pranav Mistry gave a speech at TEDIndia regarding his latest creation, the SixthSense. The SixthSense was described as a “wearable gestural interface that augments the physical world around us with digital information and lets us use natural hand gestures to interact with that information,” and when it was demonstrated on stage, it looked to be the technology of the future.  By using colored finger pads, Mistry was able to take photographs, draw, and interface with data on a virtual screen displayed by a pocket projector worn around his neck.  As the talk continued, the capabilities of the technology became more and more apparent, and at its close the possibilities of such a system seemed endless. So where is it now?  After the TEDTalk, SixthSense fell out of the spotlight, vanishing from media attention as time drew by.  Now, five years later, the general populace barely remembers the technology that was slated to be the new wave of the future. In the words of renowned robotics genius, self-proclaimed “techno-hipster” Senior Lucas Ramos, after being asked his opinion on the decline of SixthSense: “What even is that?” This is a clear example of how the most innovative devices of this century- such as PCs and smartphones- that completely change the way we view the world are not just defined by their technology or by their outside-the-box functionality. Rather, an enormous part of what makes a legend- what transforms a quirky piece of hardware or software into a technological revolution- is usability.  The way a user interfaces with a product is extremely important; if a new device feels clunky or slow, no matter how much of a breakthrough the technology is, it will not catch on. Such is the case with the SixthSense. Despite symbolizing an incredible leap forward, its main selling point- the ability to project and manipulate digital information- is an unpolished mere prototype at best. The product is difficult to acquire and irritating to interface with. Of course, it shows promise, but such a technology requires time to adapt to the needs of the general public. Perhaps in a few years, SixthSense will take the world by storm when it is refined with a sleeker user interface with less obtrusive finger adornments. But as of now, such a scenario can only be imagined.