The Connection Glass facilitates and enhances meeting compatible people

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March 20, 2006 Computer Mediated Communication significantly increases the size of your usual social or business contact universe and can give you a far greater choice of prospects to mine. On the other hand, there’s no substitute for being there, so you can assess them in person. Computers hold great promise in matching us with particularly suitable partners and we’ve written up several such concepts over the last few years, from proximity-based Bluetooth introduction via cell phones, through Xenofreaks PIX interactive visual display device through to nTAG’s interactive name badge for conferences and social events and even real-world gaming using GPS-capable mobile phones. All of these concepts offer communication both in a virtual world level and in a physical environment. Now there’s another viable idea IOHO - Priscilla Bernikowicz’s interactive glasses are designed to help us pick the right person in a room full of people.

Computer Mediated Communication is superior to human mediated communication in many aspects. It may lack the tact, appropriateness and guile of a skilled host or facilitator but it significantly increases the size of your usual social or business contact universe and can give you a far greater choice of prospects to mine. On the other hand, there’s no substitute for being there, so you can look your potential business partner, lover or collaborator in the eye and take a good look at who they are – the computer can neither detect or assess the nuances of how we present in person, what we say, how we conduct ourselves, how we dress and ultimately who we are – for that you need a human being. For example, it would be unwise to agree to marry someone over the internet without having met them in person (though no doubt it happens), and you’d be silly to ink a major business deal without having performed due diligence by assuring yourself in person that your partner was capable of keeping their end of the agreement. The handshake still represents a large part of the contractual process.

So how does one effectively introduce the most compatible people making all of the relevant information available in the most convenient way to enable them to make the best informed decisions? If all of these information inputs could be delivered effectively, it would be much easier to meet the right person in a room full of people to help you achieve your goals. Networking could be significantly more empowered and effective for everything from job/employee hunting, finding sale prospects, suitable romantic or sexual partners, building netwoks of friends, community building and almost every other form of human social endeavour would have a lot of time consuming friction removed from the process.

Computers hold great promise in matching us with particularly suitable partners and we’ve written up several such concepts, that range from proximity-based cell phone introduction using bluetooth through to nTag’s smart badges – enabling communication in a virtual world level and in a physical environment. Readers should feel free to suggest other systems worthy of consideration.

Designer Priscilla Bernikowicz began investigating ways of connecting people to build communities as a senior thesis project at California College of the Arts in San Francisco and before too long decided that the most interesting application of compuer mediated communicationwas in connecting people for relationship.

One night on spring break at the House of Blues in Chicago Priscilla observed that it was impossible to talk to people, or even order drinks properly because “you had to yell in your server's or bartender's ear, and speaking to someone new was really impossible.”

Priscilla’s search for suitable technologies and the best features of community building sites saw her look across all forms of computer mediated relationships. “I studied websites like Craigslist and I checked out and sites like that as well as speed dating services.”

“Then I started to go out to clubs and bars and just observe people's behaviors.

“People were not really meeting one another very effectively because the volume of the music makes audio communication too difficult.

“It happens everywhere there’s loud music – people mill around holding their drink. Everyone has a glass in their hand that they're 'nursing' and the glass appears somewhat of a security blanket - something to hold. “

In the long term observation of many such venues, Priscilla observed a type of “security blanket” syndrome. Holding a glass, wallet, keys, cell phone, handheld, or wearing an MP3 player is enough, though leaning on a wall or table will do and so will having something else in your hands. “I started out thinking that people could have some sort of message pad to communicate with others. Cell phone messaging already plays a significant role in keeping groups of friends in touch when out on the town.

“I was looking for some object that could embody a complete synthesis of communication technology, but I soon realized that people already have their hands full with their drink and purse or wallet or keys or cellphone.

So the glass became the focus.

“I've heard of a bar that uses cellphones and another in NY uses computers with cams to enable communication between people but I found that many people had an adverse response to cellphone use in bars as they seem impersonal.

“After developing the idea of a communication glass, I realized that not only would it enable learning about and meeting new people in the bar, it would help the bar to manage drink tabs and encourage (and monitor) the sale of drinks in the bar. It could also be an educator about the menu and list of drinks available. Some people are really intimidated when they order drinks because they don't know the names of standard drinks that aren't on a drink list or menu. The glass has a directory of everything the bar offers so that people can confidently order food and drink. There are already bars and restaurants that use wireless PDA's to manage tabs, so this wasn't much more of a stretch.

Priscilla is currently going through the process of finding the right backers to fund and partner in the process of bringing the system to market. Email from interested parties should go here.

“I am interested in finding backers for it or potentially a development or manufacturing partner. I'm also interested in finding new and interesting work, so I’ve not closed my mind on how we might bring the glass to market – I’m just keen to follow the process and create a product that will enhance the way we currently do things.”

“As far as cost goes, the cost of manufacture depends on whether or not the product stays true to the original design and how much it changes in the initial product. Currently, many of the features are similar to those in cell phones.

“When this work was done, it was a conceptual student project, and I really didn't consider the cost of manufacture when designing it – since then, I’ve thought a lot more about it.

“The glass would either be bar glass or shatter-proof Lexan. The technology aspect of it I imagined would be a film that could be applied to each glass. If the glass breaks, the film could be taken off and placed on a new glass. The battery and chip fits into the base.

“For charging the glasses are placed a drying rack that has induction chargers similar to those used in electric toothbrush chargers. There’s a wireless server to connect the glasses with multiple points of sale, and a website and interface developed to manage people's profiles and allow them to enter content remotely (before they arrive).” It’s quite possible then, that in the future you might be thinking about updating your profile or message before you go to a social event , along with what you might wear.

Just what it might cost to outfit a bar was a difficult question for Priscilla given that she hasn’t yet finalised the format for the prototype. “I'd could cost anywhere between US$12,000 and US$50,000 for a bar to invest in this system in a commercial form with volume production and a significant roll-out, and depending on what functionality we include and how elegantly we design it it could double or halve,” she laughs.

“What it will offer though, is a competitive advantage in the meeting marketplace, at the same time as improving a venue’s POS system, optimizing staff operations, increasing and monitoring drink sales and tips, and ensuring every drink gets paid for.

“I think the draw of such an innovative concept would bring new clientele such as business and social networking groups who want to operate more efficiently. I think the lure of a better way of meeting people would make the investment worthwhile.”

Priscilla is seeking partners who can help her bring the product to market.

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