Proverbial Wallets Project: A Clever, Ambient Device (MIT)

I’m rather fond of interactive objects that take mundane, intangible digital data and manifests it physically in delightful ways. I’m also intrigued by ambient devices (as described as Dan Saffer) — interactive devices that lack any traditional semblance of “interface” (screens, buttons, switches), opting instead for more subtle interactive and responsive elements that reflect the intrinsic metaphors and physical character of the object. After all, why tack on yet *another* LCD-buttonpad combo when there is an opportunity to create a more charming and satisfying interaction?

Which brings us to The Proverbial Wallet, an fun little experimental project from MIT Media Lab (by Henry Holtzman, John Kestner, Daniel Leithinger, Emily Tow, Danny Bankman, Jaekyung Jung). The Wallet exhibits changes in its physical form & behavior depending on the state/ activities of its owner’s bank account, making its owner more conscious of when/ how often they spend money (something that has become much easier to ignore/forget since money often changes hands digitally, as opposed to physically, these days).

For example, the Proverbial Wallet will buzz when a transaction is processed on your bank account; it may resist being opened when the owner is on a tight budget (as determined from bank account data); it even shrinks or enlarges in size depending on the current account balance. The deceptively ordinary-looking leather wallet contains embedded actuators (to create physical feedback and behaviors), and a bluetooth chip, which piggybacks on a cell phone’s internet connection to access the user’s bank account.

The project illustrates how powerful tactile/ tangible feedback is, especially when this feedback ‘makes sense’ in relation to the physical character and cultural metaphors of the object. Embedding this interactivity into a common-place, iconic object (vs an entirely new device), is also an effective choice. The almost anthropomorphic behaviors of the Wallet (e.g. it wrestles with its owner; it bulges when ‘full’ and becomes skinny when empty) establishes a zany interaction with the user while sending a sobering message.

More information on the project here:

Some images:

And a video here:

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One Comment

  1. Geoffrey Villanueva
    Posted January 17, 2011 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

    That’s really interesting, Ken. I found this article online that deals with the topic of spending; the first point really speaks to the issue that the Proverbial Wallet is trying to address. I myself sometimes find it hard to have a feel for just how much money is in my account and how much I’m really spending unless I’m dealing with something tangible like cash because of the increasing digital nature of money management. Here’s the link to that article I was talking about:

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