Gadget, Object, Space, Ubiquitous Computing

and the world around us.

In Jesse Lecavalier’s “The Restlessness of Objects”, he described how logistics companies use bar code and gadgets to help workers navigate in the space, track item flows and generate analytical results to make efficient decision. One of the examples that briefly mentioned in the article is the Kiva robot. Different from having workers to pick each item in a order (go to the shelf, get the item, scan it, put in into picker bag, go to next item, repeat, then go back to the package center), Kiva delivers the shelf to the shipper. For Kiva, the warehouse is its space, the 2-D bar codes are its Google map, the storage shelves are its objects and the shippers location is its destination. It is in fact operating under a very complex system — it adapts and moves its object locations in response to consumer demand and shelf status.

This isn’t a new topic to me since I learned about warehouse design and business logistics in my operation class. But I never thought of how people interacts with gadget, and how gadget interacts with the object and space and build something that seems intangible upon the current space.

With an algorithmic logistics, certain constraints are determined but the process is allowed to unfold in unanticipated ways, perhaps even ways that exceed the intuition of the designers. In a Kiva warehouse, for example, what seems like a chaotic jumble makes total sense to the computer systems organizing it. However, for all the sophistication behind the design of such a responsive system, the form and performance of the distribution center floor is based on one of the most fickle and irrational of principles: love.

This reminds me of ubiquitous computing (although it is not directly link to the topic). Ubiquitous computing is the idea of having constant access to information and technology.

1990: Mark Weiser and his team at Xerox PARC using their labs tabs, pads and boards. Photo credits.

It is like you can receive your call on all of your devices, read your message on your phone, smart watch and computer. You can argument your physical space such as the wall and use it for digital notepad. Anything can be a interface, and every interaction is natural and context-aware. Similar to Kiva, theses devices are creating a new layer of environment (or architecture) upon the physical space. In fact, you can find it is everywhere in real life — it is the phone that you have, your personal exercise tracker fitbits, your thermostat nest… You probably heard of the buzzword Internet of Things (IoT) — devices communicate to each other in addition to the user that aims to create a smarter home. So in the logistics example that computer gather information through bar code and track your item movement, IoT use your data to create a digital ecosystem around you. Of course, we can’t omit the concern about privacy.

I can’t help wonder, as Lecavalier mentioned in the end, if “ability to get the things we want faster and easier actually make us happier?”. I guess only time could tell.

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