An Ambient Orb is a frosted glass lamp that glows in different colors depending upon the information supplied to it. It is a futuristic wifi device that can sit on an office desk much like a crystal ball.
When Ambient Devices launched the Ambient Orb in 2002 the New York Times Magazine described ambient devices to be one of the Ideas of the Year in 2002.
Ambient devices are part of an emerging technology called ubiquitous computing. Ubiquitous computing is interested in improving the computing interface based upon certain principles.
(i) The purpose of the computer is to help you achieve something else.
(ii) The best computer is a quiet, invisible servant.
(iii) The more that you do be intuition the smarter you become. A computer should extend the unconscious.
(iv) Technology should create calm .
These principles are actually followed in the human brain. We have a remarkable ability to filter out most of the information received from our senses and concentrate only on the pertinent ones. Our eyesight draws attention to a moving object which crosses a cluttered scene. Our hearing is able to focus upon a conversation set amidst background noise.
Ambient technology is designed to overcome information overload and supply pertinent information directly through our vision. The idea is to code summary information into a linear scale which can then be mapped into a range of colors. To take a simple example we might want summary information on room temperate. A bright red might indicate a higher temperate than average while a cool blue could indicate a low temperate. Both of these colors might indicate action points to repair the air conditioning or find a fault in the central heating. This summary information is all that is need to manage the heating system on a day to day basis.
The Ambient Orb is shipped to change color depending upon the performance of the Dow. A quick glance summarizes the state of the market. Green means the market is rising, a calming yellow means a neutral market and red indicates a falling market. Other applications have used the orb to summarise temperature, pollen count, travel time on the homeward commute or any other information channel that can be summaries by a linear scale of information.
Although it appears futuristic the device is actually quite simple. As is well known a range of colors can be produced by combining red, blue and green light sources. The Ambient Orb contains red, blue and green light emitting diodes. These emit light in response to the summary information and are carefully arranged to allow their output to mix cleanly. The Ambient Orb produces a clean color without hot spots of red, green and blue. The frosted glass cover supports the color mixing.
A relatively simple electronics system is required to support the color system. A signal from the host computer is received by a wireless receiver. The signal passes to a microprocessor which reinterprets it into red, blue and green signals. In fact the Ambient Orb is slightly more sophisticated it works on a six color system. Rather than use red, blue and green LEDs the system uses bright red, blue and green LEDS supported by hazy red, blue and green LEDS. A six color system gives a greater range and smoother transition of color than is possible with a three color system.
When placed upon an executive desk an Ambient Orb is a cool device. However, the technology is comparatively simple and the big skill comes in programming information into a meaningful data stream that summarizes complex data