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Assignment: Impossible

Assignment: Impossible


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A Modest Proposal: Star-Trek-like Communicator Badges for Siri

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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In the series “A Modest Proposal,” my colleagues and I will propose inventions and projects that I think are eminently doable and would love made real.

A Star Trek communicator badge

The Siri voice interface system on the new iPhone 4S has proven extraordinarily popular and engendered much experimentation. The next generation of it may be the final frontier — a brooch like the communication badge seen on Star Trek that one can tap for an otherwise hands-free way of talking with Siri. The concept would be pretty simple to implement and help reveal just how advanced our interfaces with mobile technologies are becoming.

The idea, from screenwriter Gary Whitta, would involve a Bluetooth device that can wirelessly communicate with your iPhone. You would tap it, speak into it, and Siri would speak out of it. It should probably turn itself off after a few seconds of silence, and perhaps make a chirp or have a light or generate a vibration to let you know if the mic was live or not. Volume buttons or a volume dial would likely be on the side.

For those who aren’t Trekkies, or for those who can’t secure a licensing agreement with Star Trek‘s parent company, one can imagine other designs for such badges. I might also imagine that such badges might get worn closer to the mouth — perhaps as a collar clip or lapel pin, or like the clasp on a bolo tie.

Dick Tracy's Two-Way Wrist Radio

One might even imagine a bracelet, like Dick Tracy‘s famous two-way wrist radio, which might also give the option of a little touchscreen that could remotely the iPhone’s screen. I do think that of all these possible designs, a clip-on is likely the simplest and user-friendly.

 

This idea is essentially a badge version of the Bluetooth headsets now popular everywhere — I’m actually surprised that Apple didn’t think of putting out an earpiece specifically exploiting Siri. In any case, the concept has the potential to make voice interfaces even more convenient to use — you render it hands-free, making it even more conversational in nature and removing the impediment of having to get out your iPhone. These badges might also be useful for dictation, or for phone calls.

Increasingly sophisticated voice interfaces are strategies designed to help us make the most of our ever more powerful mobile devices. Voice will prove especially important in coming days, given how intuitive it is to use and how little real estate there is on smartphones to physically input commands.

It’d be nice if one could carry a keyboard on one’s torso as well, but I don’t imagine users would much like pawing their chests in public just to type into their mobiles. Sadly, I’m guessing it will take even longer to find a way for Siri to make me a cup of tea, Earl Grey, hot — perhaps a pocket replicator might help?

You can email me regarding A Modest Proposal at toohardforscience@gmail.com and follow the series on Twitter at #modestproposal.

Charles Q. Choi About the Author: Charles Q. Choi is a frequent contributor to Scientific American. His work has also appeared in The New York Times, Science, Nature, Wired, and LiveScience, among others. In his spare time, he has traveled to all seven continents. Follow on Twitter @cqchoi.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. funkotronic 3:55 pm 11/11/2011

    “Q” as the middle initial. Yes, there is irony. Your cover, it is blown.

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  2. 2. alexanderthesoso 12:32 am 11/12/2011

    Hate to tell you this, but there was a guy who was taking old solid metal Star Trek badges, and building bluetooth headsets with speaker phones in them into the badges about 6 years ago, selling them on ebay. friend of mine wears his today. you tap it to answer the phone, or you tap a different spot to activate voice dialing. No siri needed, worked for any phone with bluetooth.

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  3. 3. alfrednorris 4:42 am 11/12/2011

    Here’s another thought. The Microsoft NATAL system is worn around the neck and tracks your hands, facial movements, and voice. Combine this with the new LED contacts which can put a virtual display right on your eyes. What’s the combination give you?

    Nothing short of an augmented reality world that you can interact with. Say “keyboard” and one appears in front of you. Type directly onto it…or simply continue to use voice commands.

    In 20 years we’ll basically be in the StarTrek holodeck 24-7. (Also…do a YouTube search for Stark HUD. Totally doable too)

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  4. 4. buggs_moran 7:54 am 11/15/2011

    It’s not attached to the iPhone, but WLAN communicators exist… http://www.vocera.com/index.php/voice/badge

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  5. 5. toohardforscience 10:01 am 11/15/2011

    @buggs_moran: Indeed, and there was a link to them in my story.

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  6. 6. toohardforscience 10:03 am 11/15/2011

    @alfrednorris: A similar system was the subject of my previous “A Modest Proposal” — http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/assignment-impossible/2011/10/28/a-modest-proposal-virtual-keyboards-via-kinect-eyeglasses/

    My problem with such a system has to do with the amount of power needed to feed into the visual display, be they eyeglasses or contact lenses. My problem with contact lenses, being someone who’s never needed them, would be sticking something on my eye just to use a peripheral.

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  7. 7. toohardforscience 10:05 am 11/15/2011

    @alexanderthesoso: The issue isn’t whether or not there were Bluetooth interfaces for phones — my piece did touch upon that. Rather, it’s about the synergy between Siri, a pretty good voice-controlled interface, and hands-free technologies.

    Link to this
  8. 8. Shunkmanitu 12:41 pm 12/13/2011

    Of course some of us would rather have a Klingon Version!

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