-The Bar of Soap

jeevan kalanithi {} Object-Based Media {} MIT Media Lab

The Bar of Soap is a grasp-sensitive handheld device, aware of how a person is holding it. The Bar of Soap was developed to explore new ways of interacting with handheld devices and new ways of interacting with off-device media.

What if your handheld device reconfigured itself -- its displays, buttons and all -- everytime you wanted to use it for a particular purpose? It would look like a phone when you wanted it to be a phone, a camera when you wanted it to be a camera, a remote control when you wanted a remote, and so on. What if the device automatically switched modes based on how you held it, instead of forcing you to go through menus, or forcing you to parse gobs of tiny buttons?

We first applied the Bar of Soap to multi-functional handheld devices and mode switching. People naturally hold different handhelds in characteristic ways; a smart device could automatically recognize these grasps. We trained the device to accurately recognize five separate grasps (camera, phone, PDA, remote control and portable video game device). The training data were generated by naive users holding the Bar of Soap as if it were one of the aforementioned devices, without any special coaching or suggestions.

This was a first step toward a "Bar of Soap" personal device -- it looks like an undifferentiated ivory block at rest, but springs to life based on the user's needs, fulfilling any role a handheld device might need to.

The Bar of Soap is covered with capacitive sensing on all six of its surfaces and includes an accelerometer, two bi-stable energy-efficient LCD displays, a rechargeable battery and a Bluetooth radio.

The Bar of Soap was begun as project for Roz Picard's Machine Learning course; it was a collaboration between students in the Object-Based Media and Speech Interfaces groups (namely, Matt Adcock, Dan Smalley, Quinn Smithwick, Brandon Taylor and me). Brandon Taylor has continued to develop new prototypes, and deserves all the credit for the project's continued improvements. My contribution was initial interaction design, hardware design, experimental design and pattern recognition algorithm development.

The Bar of Soap without its case, showing the clear touch-sensitive material overlaying the screen. There is also a screen on the opposite face of the Bar of Soap; the side walls are also touch-sensitive. All the electronics is housed inside.