Entrepreneur and Media Lab researcher David Rose talks ‘enchanted objects’


New book out this week from serial entrepreneur and MIT Media Lab researcher David Rose, entitled, “Enchanted Objects: Design, Human Desire, and the Internet of Things.” Rose is doing two local events: one at Bolt on Tuesday night, and one on Thursday at the Harvard Book Store. We sat down a few days ago to talk about what exactly an “enchanted object” is.

Rose’s vision is that as the costs of building special-purpose connected devices drops, we’ll see an explosion of experimentation as everyday objects — a wallet or trash can, for example — connect to the cloud and become more intelligent. It’s not just about bigger screens, clever apps, or more powerful computers. It’s about the smart dog collar that can help you find Spot when he strays, or the pill bottle that reminds you to take the medication inside.

In the book, Rose lays out four possible evolutionary paths for tech — all of which will likely unspool in tandem: Terminal World (screens everywhere), prosthetics (wearable and implantable technology), animism (social robots and other machines that interact with us in human-like ways), and enchanted objects (ordinary items infused with “magic” — i.e., software and connectivity.)

Audio from our conversation is below. Here’s the outline of my questions (I’d just received the book, so hadn’t yet read it):

    • How do you define “enchanted objects”? Is it the same as connected devices, or the Internet of Things?
    • Let’s talk about the weather-forecasting umbrella on the cover of the book. Your Cambridge startup, Ambient Devices, brought one to market several years back. Was that a successful product, or was it an “enchanted object” before its time?
    • Is the Terrafugia flying car, featured on the back cover of the book, an “enchanted object”?
    • Kickstarter and Indiegogo and crowdfunding seem to be playing an interesting role in helping entrepreneurs get these devices to market, instead of going the traditional venture capital route…
    • There seems to be tension between what will be an app on a smartphone, versus what could be a wearable, implantable, or other kind of object.
    • Rose built an intelligent trash can at the Media Lab, which could scan objects as they were getting thrown away… How does that relate to Amazon.com’s strategy of knowing what we need and delivering it almost instantly?

We also touch on Rose’s startup Ambient Devices, as well as MIT’s CityCar project and Cambridge-based Superpedestrian, designing a new kind of bicycle wheel.

Click play below, or click the “down arrow” to get the MP3 for later listening. Here’s a larger version of the “periodic table of enchanted objects” that appears above.

Disclosure: I should disclose that I’ve known and written about Rose since at least 1997, when he was running a web and digital media development firm called Interactive Factory in Boston. Whenever he asked me whether he should write a book I said, “Yes.” I am glad he finally took my advice.

Scott Kirsner writes the Innovation Economy column every Sunday in the Boston Globe, in which he tracks entrepreneurship, investment, and big company activities around New England.
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