Thanks to technological progress, we’re now more connected than ever. But digital connection isn’t the same as human connection. Yes, we can easily send a message to a friend across the country or video chat with family members, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to feeling closer to them.
Sometimes, it can feel like technology is driving us apart; we’re often easily absorbed into the world of our screens, shutting everything else out. With Project Jetty, HP’s Immersive Experiences Lab set out to create an experience that used technology to connect people in meaningful ways—to create trust, accountability, relationships, and emotional connections with users.
In short, Project Jetty combines real-time weather data projected around a realistic, 3D-printed house inside a photo frame.
Jetty works by connecting “pairs” of people, such as a mom living separately from her adult son. The mom and son have their own Jetty devices, and each one shows a representation of the other person’s home. When the mom leaves her house for work, the lights inside the Jetty at her son’s house turn off; when she returns home, the lights turn on again. The mother and son can also see weather conditions affecting the home of the other, no matter where they’re located. Why the weather? Because weather is an easy topic that enables people to connect and better communicate with each other.
The idea emerged out of an HP Labs design workshop, where Ji Won Jun, a research engineer in the Immersive Experiences Lab at HP, wondered how to “help people feel connected without actually being connected.” Alex Thayer, Chief Experience Architect of HP’s Immersive Experiences Lab, was reminded of a conversation with his daughter, where she said she wished she could be at her grandma’s house, even when she wasn’t physically there.
Fellow team member Hiroshi Horii made the first “snow globe” prototype, and things snowballed from there. The lab worked on building a workable prototype of a small 3D “Jetty” house and solving a number of challenges, including:
- How to display weather
- How to 3D-print houses using basic photos and map data
- How to reliably show presence information
- How two Jetty devices could communicate presence information between one another
Lab members Jishang Wei and Kevin Smathers worked through a lot of the software and IoT challenges. And within eight weeks, the first Jetty devices were ready for testing.
Enhancing human connection
The next step was to test Project Jetty in the field. See it in action here:
The device was given to 10 people across five families (five pairs) to use over the course of a week—specifically, these families lived close to each other but struggled to find time to communicate. The results proved dramatic.
Thayer said every family pairing reported having more conversations via phone and text with each other and feeling more connected. One grandmother said the Project Jetty house helped her stay organized and remember when she was supposed to babysit, which made her feel better equipped to care for her grandchildren. Participants also used the word “heartwarming” to describe how Project Jetty made them feel. “That emotional connection is critical,” said Thayer, “because we want to shift technology from transactional to emotional and evocative.”
When designing Project Jetty, HP Labs set out with one motive in mind: to connect people without interfering in their lives. In other words, you can communicate around the Jetty, instead of through it. Someday, the Jetty could serve as a smart hub for all your connected technology, from IoT devices to mobile devices.
The heart of the home
We can’t count all the articles worrying about the consequences hyper-connectivity is having on relationships. Dating apps, like Tinder, have raised fears about the dating apocalypse, where instead of forging emotional connections, people use apps to hook up and go their separate ways. We’ve heard Netflix takes over our social lives (and ruins our brains) and that digital devices tear families apart.
Some of these fears are hyperbolic, but they’re rooted in legitimate concerns about the impact technology has on what’s ultimately the greatest source of human happiness—connections with other people. At the same time, technology has tremendous potential to improve our lives.
The response to these concerns isn’t to get rid of technology, but to develop technology that nurtures relationships. Tech is unhelpful when it draws too much attention to itself or acts like a barrier and gets in the way of people’s goals. By building technology that recedes into the background and brings human experience and emotional connection to the foreground, we can give consumers products that enhance their lives.
This is what HP Immersive Experiences Lab aimed to achieve with the Jetty project. The device sits in the home, minding its own business, and yet, it also encourages and improves communication, providing a practical service as an IoT hub. But it does so much more for families. The pairing approach gives people insight into their loved ones’ days and vice versa. Jetty continuously reinforces a sense of connection throughout the day and lays the groundwork for conversation. When family members think of one another more often, they have a better chance to refresh or reestablish bonds of trust, accountability, and intimacy.
As a whole, this is where the technology industry is headed. People want to feel connected to each other. The products that succeed in the market will be those that make the home—and the office—a “homier” place, rather than one where everyone lives distinct digital lives. The best technology should make us feel more human. It’s a lofty, but worthy, goal.