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Assignment: Impossible

Assignment: Impossible

Exploring the area between the unknown and the impossible.

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

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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?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2IJdfxWtPM

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

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

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