Google Shows Off ‘Ambient Notifications’ With Puffs of Air, Moving Shadows

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If you’ve used a computing device in the past few decades, chances are you’ve been annoyed by notifications at some point. Websites and social media platforms are designed to constantly send you little dings and chimes to keep you engaged. Google is looking to fix this problem with a new kind of notification system it calls Little Signals. Together they form a more gentle and subtle approach to letting you know something is happening.

The basic theory behind this design study is sound. Notifications can be too loud, abrupt, and can interrupt our daily lives. Google’s work was first spotted by Dieter Bohn, via Twitter.

In Google’s words, it’s designed to “explore how we might stay up-to-date with digital information while maintaining moments of calm.” Though it sounds like a bit of woo, the implementation does seem quite soothing. As you can see on the Little Signals website, or in the video below, it’s built on Calm Technology and includes six objects. Let’s look at each one individually.

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The first is Air, so you’d place the tiny puffer somewhere so it can move something gently. Google includes the example of it gently blowing on a leaves of a plant. This is something you might notice from the corner of your eye, as it’s really subtle. The second is a Button, which grows as it fills with information. You can picture it being your email inbox. You can twist it right for more details and left for less. When it fills up it emits a tone. No word on what it sounds like, but a klaxon seems unlikely.

Next we have Movement, which is a series of seven pegs in a row that rise up-and-down from their chambers. They are used to represent things like timers or calendar notifications. You can also tap them to dismiss an alert. The fourth is Rhythm, which is a bowl that makes ambient sounds. The “quality” of the sound correlates to the quality of the information, according to Google. It’s not clear what that means. You can wave your hand over the bowl or turn it over to silence it.

The fifth object is Shadow, and it’s a mushroom-shaped bowl that lifts up and down. It can make the shadow “breathe” when active, or grow in response to something important. This is probably the second most confusing item in the list. Finally, we have Tap, which is a small arm that taps on things. In the video above it gently taps a bottle of medication, assumedly alerting you it’s time to take a pill.

Google’s Seed Studio collaborated with Map to create the objects, and its website lets you download the code for the objects too. You can also download them all at this site as well. It’s the latest Arduino project the company has created. Personally, I can’t wait to be notified that I missed a deadline by a puff of air instead of an expletive-filled Slack message.

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