The coolest invention this year! (was invented two years ago)

SixthSense promised to be the closest thing to Minority Report technology

I’ve written before about my preference for cheap, ubiquitous tech over flashy and expensive gadgets. The exclusivity of pricey next-level gizmos actually detracts from their usefulness and prevents strong user/developer communities from forming (iPad, anyone?). With that in mind, I dreamed about tablet computers becoming as cheap and ubiquitous as USB keys. Turns out, I should have dreamed bigger.

Thanks to Pranav Mistry of MIT’s Media Lab, screens themselves could be rendered irrelevant. Or rather—when walls, sheets of paper, or even your hands can be used as screens, then cheap becomes free and computing takes a great leap forward. All is explained in this amazing TED talk. Take the time to watch the whole thing, you won’t be disappointed:

[ted id=685]

Screenlessness may be just the beginning—Mistry’s invention integrates physical and digital space in a way that strikes me as a solution to some fundamental limitations in computing. What might app developers build around such an intuitive computer?  It’s fun just to imagine the possibilities.

I’m particularly inspired by Mistry’s sheer ingenuity—SixthSense is not the product of a genius math-whiz or a triumph of computer engineering—it seems more like a homemade mashup of existing cheap devices, a puzzle Mistry solved through imagination. The whole thing left me gobsmacked. And I was gobsmacked once again when I checked the date on the talk—it’s two years old!

So what happened with SixthSense? Or, more hopefully—what’s happening? Why doesn’t everyone have one of these ingenuous, cheap, wearable devices? Has Mistry opened SixthSense up to open source development as promised? What does the mainstream consumer electronics industry think about this—is it a threat or an opportunity?

I’ll try to answer these questions this week, and I’ve reached out to Mistry himself. Stay tuned, and perhaps we’ll find out why we’re still waiting for yesterday’s technology.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.