Max Braun
Inevitable technology. Now Robotics & Machine Learning at (Google) X.

That time I put a Raspberry Pi inside an Apple iSight because nobody stopped me

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Something is different about this iSight. Images courtesy of the author.

It’s a pandemic outside, many of us are working from home, and I found myself buying a webcam for the first time since the last century. I was not the only one.

The webcams out there today, they do the job. You just plug them in and get a pretty nice video feed. But they’re not exactly design icons. I thought that, maybe, we can do a little better.

Allow me to take you back to the year 2003. The iPod is still a thing. It’s playing “Hey Ya!” by OutKast. You can get an iBook in white plastic. Life is good. Apple is also selling a webcam. They call it the iSight, and it’s a beautiful piece of design and engineering. …

A short apology and a longer explanation

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Images courtesy of the author

Look, I may have accidentally summoned some demons from the pixel art underworld. I don’t know what is happening to these little creatures, but it sure doesn’t look good. They appear to be melting and turning into other objects. I’m really quite sorry about all this, but it happened and I’m here to tell you about it.

Sometimes no user interface is the best user interface

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Paper on Thanksgiving Day, 2019. Content: © 2019 The New York Times Company

There’s something special about the layout of a print-edition newspaper. A news website has infinite vertical scrolling space, but a printed front page is fixed to the same size every day. This constraint creates a very particular aesthetic and — if done well — a sense of typographic balance.

I wanted to preserve this analog feeling and infuse it with the possibilities of smart home technology. That’s why I made Paper, a radically simple prototype that does exactly one thing: show today’s front page on a large e-paper display.

Sometimes no user interface is the best user interface. This project, even more so than Accent previously, was created in the tradition of calm technology. Paper easily blends into the background, because its screen doesn’t emit any light and the content changes quietly when no one is looking. The display is wall-mounted at eye height, and the nightly front-page update happens automatically, so the only user interaction is simply standing there and looking at it. …

Why I created Accent, the smart picture frame with a pop of color and no cables

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Do I have a thing today? Accent showing a monthful of calendar events. (Images courtesy of the author)

Screens live a double life. They serve us dense information in bright colors, only to transform back into black mirrors. We have gotten used to it, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

As more and more connected devices arrive in our homes, it’s a good time to remember the principles of Calm Technology, first formulated at Xerox PARC in 1995. They talk about how technology should respect our attention and remain in the background most of the time, how relevant information should be presented calmly and make use of the periphery.

In my previous projects, I used two-way mirrors and minimal user interfaces to create smart displays that blend in with the space around them. This time, I turned to e-paper, which achieves similar effects with a matte and non-emissive surface while operating on much less power. …

New prototypes from the living room lab

A while ago I made a smart mirror for my bathroom. Maybe you’ve seen it. It started with a particular image in my mind. I wanted to build a piece of technology for the home that feels new and futuristic, yet simple and clean. The mirror blends in seamlessly with its environment and doesn’t aggressively compete for my attention. I wrote about how it works and the parts I used, source code included.

And it’s open source so you can help make it better

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Artist’s impression

Like many who call the United States their home, I have been worried and confused by the start to Donald Trump’s presidency. It’s hard to know how to react to the misdirected anger, the blatant racism, and the “alternative facts”, which are increasingly threatening our civil liberties and our planet. It’s important that we take to the streets and fight back. Seeing that happen does give me hope.

Personally, I have a very particular set of skills, skills that allow me to have some fun with Mr. Trump’s emotional incontinence and maybe effect positive change along the way.

Our new President really likes to use Twitter. He uses it to express strong opinions about all sorts of things. Occasionally, those opinions are targeted at publicly traded companies. You see where this is going. …

When I couldn’t buy a smart mirror and made one instead

Sometime late last year I realized that I wanted my ordinary bathroom mirror to be more like the future we were promised in the movies.

There doesn’t seem to be anyone selling the product I was looking for. The individual parts, however, were fairly easy to get. A number of people have done similar custom builds recently, but I had something different in mind.

So I ordered myself a two-way mirror, a display panel and controller board, plus a bunch of components and arts & crafts supplies. …

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