In one discussion I had with Professor Scott Hudson in a class at CMU in 2007, I brought up my first idea of Adaptive Artifact, which is an Adaptive Mouse. The discussion inspired my strong interest and enthusiasm in the term of Adaptive Artifact. For three years, I have constantly been exploring research topics related to this term. Moreover, I plan to make this term to be a popular field within the next decade, for I believe that the Adaptive Artifact is the future of artifact design.

In the past, the design of artifacts was focused on dealing with function and form. As Don Norman, expert in industrial design, once said, good affordance provides better learnability and usability, and enables intuitive user experience; or as in the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s dialectic between “form follows function” and “function follows form,” they all emphasize the importance of seamless mapping between form and function. However, no matter how intuitive the form design is or how properly the function is arranged, it is proven in the history of artifact that it is impossible to satisfy all of the users’ needs. The cognition of the users varies, and their needs change over time; therefore, a solid, static, and passive artifact would never fit those needs, no matter how refined the design is.

The main issue of Adaptive Artifact would be how to make an artifact intuitively detect the user’s status and needs, to alter its form in order to fit ergonomics, and even to provide proper functions to meet the user’s dynamic requirements. This is also the area on which “Adaptive Artifact” group intends to focus, research, develop and promote.

Preliminary Studies

We currently propose two approaches to discover foregoing ideas, micro and macro, and get some prototypes done. In detail, micro approach treats an artifact as a smart object capable of detecting user’s conditions and fulfilling dynamic formal and functional purposes, while macro approach achieves the same capabilities by gathering a group of identical smart objects to conduct collective behaviors.

Take Adaptive Mouse for example, the mouse itself is a smart object consisting of sensible skin and pattern recognition mechanism. It dynamically predicts button locations by actively monitoring user’s hand grasps.

Florabot is the implementation of macro approach; around 500 identical Florabots independently sense activities on the field, propagate information and conduct collective reactions in terms of lighting and shape-changing effects.

With computational mechanism embedded, both approaches could potentially overturn the existing model of Human-Artifact Interaction. Conventionally, an artifact, such as a Swiss knife(Figure1), provides proper affordances (visual and tangible clues) for users to observe, think and manipulate (Figure2). However, based on adaptive perspective, this mental process will be removed from users and be further assigned to artifacts. In other words, artifacts will observe, think and provide properties for manipulation. All user have to do is to perform their desired action and correct formal and functional feedbacks will always be there (Figure3).

Figure1. Typical adaptable artifact

Figure2. Conventional Model of Human Artifact Interaction

Figure3. Adaptive Model of Human Artifact Interaction

Currently, several parallel adpative projects are planning and developing, such as Adaptive Keyboard and Adaptive Pad for micro approach, and Pixelbot for macro approach. They will soon be released in the coming year.