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This app lets you draw digital connections between physical objects

'A digital screwdriver that allows you to manipulate how things behave'

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Whether we like it or not, more and more of the world's objects are coming online. Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and NFC standards are all being used make everything from your car to your smoke alarm digitally connected. The problem is, how do we control and understand what all these objects can do? A group of researchers from MIT think they have the answer: an augmented reality app that lets you see and draw connections between real-life objects. You just point your phone's camera at, say, your lamp or your radio, and its digital controls appear onscreen for you to manipulate.

Simply draw lines from object to object to connect them

The app — rather grandly called the "Reality Editor" — is made by a team from MIT Media Lab’s Fluid Interfaces group led by Valentin Heun. Speaking to The Creators Project, Heun says the ambition is to replace the Internet of Things with a more straightforward world of "connected objects." A key part of this ambition is that the network is decentralized. Every object's functionality and instructions are stored in the thing itself, rather than being held in the cloud, where they could be compromised by hacking or surveillance.

"If I switch a light switch on at home, that light switch communicates directly with the light," Heun tells The Creators Project. "There is no need to send this action all around the world and then back into my home. Data connections should always take the most possible direct rout, reflecting a user’s privacy interests." At the moment, compatible objects have to be identified with stickers that look like labyrinth QR codes (called FingerPrints), but in the future, Heun's team thinks they could add object recognition to the app to make these unnecessary.

This may all look like a concept, but it's a real, working product. There's an iOS app available for download and open-source code that lets developers and tinkerers make any object compatible with the Reality Editor.

It's a working project, but very ambitious

However, it's still massively ambitious for an industry that is barely half-formed. Although products like Apple's CarPlay and Nest's connected thermostat are beginning to deliver digital functionality to previously unconnected industries, there's no mainstream demand yet for something that connects the dots between all these products. Adding this sort of functionality to devices is not a trivial task, either — it would take a commitment from companies more interested in developing their own platform. The Reality Editor may be designed to be easy for anyone to use, but it's likely to remain a niche product.