Awareness of our immediate environment is often cited as a dying sense, clouded by the fog of technology and notifications, blinded by incessant screen use and the always-on nature of modern life and work. Google’s new Little Signals home sensors project, developed by the company’s Seed Studio in collaboration with London’s Map Project Office, is a suite of ‘unassuming but charming objects’ that reinvent the art of the notification. 

Strictly conceptual for the time being, Little Signals consists of six different devices, each utilising a different method of unconventional communication to attract attention without unnecessary distraction – a tightrope walk that modern technology usually fails to master. 

Little Signals ambient home sensors

ambient home sensors or home assistants
The Little Signals Family (image courtesy of Google Seed Studio and Map Project Office)

The six objects – Air, Button, Movement, Rhythm, Shadow, and Tap, offer an array of subtle nudges using sound, movement, and visual cues. The end result verges on the realm of hauntology, adding a barely perceptible layer of animation to the home in the form of taps, knocks, and flickering shadows. 

Describing the objects as a collection of ‘thought starters’, Map Project Office and the Google Seed Studio hope this array of unassuming but charming objects are forerunners of a new era of ambient computing.

It certainly makes a change from barking at Alexa or patiently spelling things out to the Google Assistant – both devices that offer colossal improvements in convenience but hardly encourage a more reflective or contemplative approach to life.

See how each of the Little Signals communicates below. §

Air home assistant
’Air’ interacts with its close surroundings. Pulses of air move nearby objects, like the leaves of a plant, to attract attention (image courtesy of Google Seed Studio and Map Project Office)
Button home sensor
’Button’ combines scale and sound to communicate and provide control. The top twists – right for more details, left for less – and grows as it receives information (image courtesy of Google Seed Studio and Map Project Office)
Movement home sensor
’Movement’ features seven pegs that graphically represent information – like a calendar or timer – through their height and motion. The pegs work individually or as a group, and are tapped for simple input (image courtesy of Google Seed Studio and Map Project Office)
Rhythm from a new family of home assitants or home sensors
’Rhythm’ generates ambient sounds. Qualities of the melody convey qualities of the information, like its importance, urgency, or tone. A wave over the object, or simply turning it over, mutes it (image courtesy of Google Seed Studio and Map Project Office)
Shadow from a family of ambient home assitants or home sensors
’Shadow’ communicates through the movements of the shadow it casts. They show the object’s status, like gently breathing when active or stretching in response to presence (image courtesy of Google Seed Studio and Map Project Office)
Tap from a new series of ambient home assistants or home sensors
’Tap’ makes use of surfaces to create sounds that act as notifications. A stronger tap means more pressing news (image courtesy of Google Seed Studio and Map Project Office)