This week has been the 27th International British Computer Society Human Computer Interaction Conference with a theme of The Internet of Things. BBC R&D organised a workshop as part of the conference, focusing on Interacting with Digital Media in Connected Environments and invited Adrian along to speak.

It was only a short talk, as most of the day was focused on doing - and we had some interesting discussions and brainstorming around how we can help people design and build connected devices.

Read on for Adrian's slides and notes from the talk...

Calm Technology

Thanks for inviting me to speak here today. If there are any strange noises during my presentation, don't worry.

MCQN Ltd builds things like...

Hello, I'm Adrian McEwen. I run MCQN Ltd, we're an Internet of Things studio, and we make things like this, the Perceptive Radio which we built for the guys here from BBC R&D.

CTO of Good Night Lamp

I'm also CTO of Good Night Lamp. More on that in a minute

Written a book about it

And I've written a book to help people make connected devices of their own, called Designing the Internet of Things.

It's being published by Wiley in the autumn, and you can pre-order it on Amazon now.

Calm Technology

One of the most important aspects of the Internet of Things, and one which is often overlooked in all the hype about sensors, is the idea of calm technology. This was actually an important part of the work done by Mark Weiser, arguably the first person to start exploring the Internet of Things in the 1990s, although it was called ubiquitous computing back then.

He thought that we should be designing devices which would become the focus of our attention when needed, but otherwise would get out of the way.

As the number of things proliferates we need to become much more considerate in our notification design than developers of our desktop apps are. I can't do it justice in a five-minute talk, but I figured I'd look at how some of the projects I've worked on and see how they address the ideas around calm technology. That'll kill two birds with one stone: giving more background on me, and communicating something about making technology more human.

The Ackers Bell

I built the Ackers Bell for ScraperWiki. It's hooked up to their online payment system, and ever time they make a new sale the bell gives a little ding ding.

Most of the time it sits on a table in their office, just as a nice ornament, and it's not all that intrusive when it does go off. The sales team wanted it because it mimics the bell that they used to ring when someone made a sale manually, and that would have been louder, but wouldn't happen as often. So this strikes (if you'll pardon the pun) a balance between the two.


Bubblino is similarly unobtrusive when he hasn't found any interesting tweets, but more playful and excitable when he does. You program him to look for whatever keyword you're interested in on Twitter, and whenever there's a new tweet he blows bubbles.

Good Night Lamp

The Good Night Lamp is purely visual with its indications. It's a family of Internet-connected lamps - you use the Big Lamp as a light, and give the Little Lamps to loved ones anywhere in the world. Whenever you turn your Big Lamp on, the Little Lamps go on too. It gives you a glanceable awareness and connection to the people you care about.

The Big Lamp is also a good example of how the Internet of Things lets you enhance existing behaviours. Turning on a lamp when it gets dark is a completely natural activity that we don't have to think about, yet in this case also triggers that remote notification. You don't have to remember to do something to stay in touch.

Soundbox Project

And finally, something that's a bit of a background research project that I've been working on with Russell Davies.

We're exploring whether sound can be used as a good ambient notification channel, and I've built him a couple of test radios with embedded computers inside. This is a photo of an old 1970s radio that I've hacked to add a small Linux computer. There's an online configuration service to set the 5 channel switches to point to online services and it just sits in the background and plays whichever channel is selected.

Just this weekend we've added support for, and the channel from my office has been playing in the background during this talk. It plays different noises when people arrive, or enter the workshop, or when a fresh pot of coffee is on or when the coffee is empty, etc. You can listen in at

Thank You

There we go. A bit of a whistlestop tour, but hopefully some food for thought for the rest of the workshop. Thank you. Any questions?