Back at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show Stacey saw an amazing Bosch kitchen product that projected an interactive interface on countertops for cooking assistance. But we really haven’t seen many new products like this and I’m wondering why. Aside from the costs involved, I think projectors can add a world of benefit to smart homes if device makers could find some valuable use cases.
Of course, me being me, I have some. More on that in a minute.
What got me recently considering this is a new projector product called the Hachi Infinite M1 from Puppy Robot. It’s a portable projector that scales video output from a small 50 centimeters all the way up to 100 inches. Even better is that it supports 10-point multitouch interaction, just like most tablets and touchscreen laptops do today.
Now this is a $999 product, so I’m not suggesting you (or I) plant several of these throughout the smart home. I’m more interested in how this general technology could find its way into the smart home. But to do that, there needs to be a reason to have projectors in the smart home.
Right off the bat, I have too many screens in my house. Not just smart televisions (we have 4 right now) but also the handfuls of tablets, phones, smart displays and even the thermostat. There are displays everywhere. Yes, they all serve a purpose, or in many cases, multiple purposes, but they’re generally fixed to a set place or a set size. That seems inefficient for interacting with my smart home.
Additionally, there are situations where life is interrupted on these displays. Take the smart TV, for example, which can be integrated with your home’s security cameras or video doorbell.
While it’s convenient to have the feed from those devices show up on the television while watching your favorite program, it’s also a bit annoying. Yes, I’m one of those people: Don’t interrupt my MLB game or HGTV show with a camera feed when someone walks by the house!
Wouldn’t it be better to have that video feed supplement the experience instead of covering it up? Here a projector could easily solve that problem. TV makers could add a projector to the top bezel on the back of the television set and simply project those smart home video feeds or other notifications on the wall above the TV.
Such a solution doesn’t really need the interaction that some of these advanced projectors like the M1 offers. However, there are other situations that could benefit from them.
While voice commands have come very far for controlling the smart home, they’re not always ideal. So today when we want to keep things quiet, we typically pull out our phone (or go find it if we don’t have it within reach), open an app and tap around the interface to do something as simple as dimming lights in the room.
What if that interface was projected on your coffee or end table next to the couch?
It could be built into the furniture but I think a more optimal method would be to integrate a small projector into a lamp. It could be a floor lamp that projects your smart home controls or even a table lamp for that end table. In either case, a tap of the lamp base or stand could turn the projector on, and with touch interaction, you could easily dim those lights with a tap.
I’ve focused so far on the living room experience but these concepts and ideas can apply to any room in the house: The kitchen, home office or bedroom are also prime real estate for projected smart home interfaces. And in each of these rooms we’d have fewer screens and smart displays cluttering up the place.
Again, this technology isn’t cheap, or at least not cheap enough to attract a wide audience of homeowners, builders and even technology enthusiasts like me. But we know over time that two things happen without fail: Technology components get smaller and less expensive, even as they become more capable.
Indeed, you can find a handheld pico projector at Best Buy for $170 today. It can output 1080p resolution from anywhere between 8 and 100 inches. Granted, the output is a meager 130 lumens of brightness as compared to the 600 lumens of the much more expensive Hachi Infinite M1, so it’s not ideal for the use case I’m envisioning.
The point is that as pico projector technology improves in output quality at declining costs, this general solution could be applied to the smart home. Yes, you need more than just a display; you’ll need some compute inside as well as connectivity. But low-powered CPUs and Wi-Fi radios don’t cost hundreds of dollars. They would essentially add a small incremental cost. And for true interaction, you’d need to add components that turn that projected display into a touch screen. There’s more cost that needs to come down as well.
Again, voice control is fine for the smart home. That’s obvious, given how many smart speakers and displays people are putting in their houses. And gestures is another smart home interaction that has shown promise, even if it hasn’t yet delivered.
I think there’s a third option that really hasn’t been taken advantage of yet, mainly for the cost reasons, but also because the industry hasn’t considered fewer screens in the smart home. What do you think: Is there a place for interactive projected interfaces in your future smart home?