Increasingly, the places we inhabit and move through - our homes, stations, cafes, offices and the like - will have embedded Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices. These will enable us to be provided with content, communicate, have our environments sensed and adjusted, and so on. While this is a compelling (and very useful) future vision, the energy demands it brings are enormous. Furthermore, we risk cluttering up our physical environments with a plethora of digital devices. In the 'developed' world these are problems that will affect sustainability and the quality of our built environments. In the 'developing' world, though, energy resource constraints and physical resource issues means that without innovation, billions of people will have reduced opportunities to benefit from the coming IoT revolution.
This project is about trying to capture the benefits of the IoT future while making it sustainable, delightful and universally accessible. The work involves a team of material scientists and human computer interaction researchers, working together with partners to develop a new form of physical material that can generate the power it needs to drive digital interfaces and interactions. That is, we will drive towards attractive, flat and flexible solar energy harvesting tiles (Photovoltaic - PV - tiles), which may incorporate input and output features to enable people to interact with them and other connected devices. These tiles will be able to be integrated into buildings (in walls and floors, for instance) and objects (like tables, clothes and book covers). The surfaces capture the energy from indoor and ambient light and at the same surface can present digital displays and interfaces to the user.
To illustrate the possibilities, consider the following four user-centred scenarios:
The project ideas and the work itself as it progresses have been co-created with UK and global industry partners and a centre in India that has over 40 years of providing insights into design for resource-constrained communities.