I'm Aza Raskin @aza. I make shiny things. I simplify.

I'm VP at Jawbone, focusing on health.

 

How to Make the Road Speak. With Design.

Run your finger across the top of your keyboard, starting at the “q” and finishing at the “\”. Run your finger the other way. Listen to the sound it makes. Run your finger over the tops of the keys faster and the pitch goes up. Run your finger more slowly and the pitch goes down.

You are witnessing an amazing process of synthesis in your brain. There is no pitch out in the real world, just a series of short and sequential air-molecule vibrations. Your brain takes these little clicks and, depending on how fast their coming in, translates them into a melodious sound. Your brain wants to hear pitch.

It’s a coping mechanism. There’s too much sound out there in the wold, so you brain translates it from lots of little discontinuous noises, into a few recognizable pitches. The same thing happens when you put a playing card in the spokes of a bicycle. As the wheel turns, those little slapping noises blur together into a continuos sound, the pitch going up and down with the speed of the rider.

On the sides of roads, especially on highways, you’ll often find groves. If you’re drowsy or not paying attention and happen onto them, you’ll be shocked into attention as a loud pitch fills your car.

Here’s the idea: If we modulate the space in-between the grooves, we’ll be able to modulate the pitch that fills the car. The more grooves we put in a row, the longer the pitch will last. We now have pitch and duration. That’s enough the play melodies. Imagine driving down the road next to a winding river, and having the road itself play you the Blue Danube. Or going through the Rocky Mountains and have the road play American the Beautiful. And if we move the grooves to the center of the road, you won’t even have to drive off the road to hear it.

Now, we can take it to the next level. With multiple sets of overlapping grooves, you can get chords. With different grooves on the left and right side of the road, you can get stereo sound. With a bit of cleverness, you can create a rich musical experience that you feel.

One practical use of this stems from people’s ability to remember tempo with great specificity. If you ask people to sing a song, they probably won’t remember the right starting pitch, but they’ll always nail the tempo within 4% of the original [source]. If we encode well-known songs into the pavement such that they play at the right tempo when driving at the speed limit, drivers might naturally change their speed to match. If you don’t go at the speed limit, everything just sounds wrong.

One final thought: if we vary the type of grooves by changing their cut shape, we might be able to reproduce different timbers. And that would be enough to replicate low-fidelity speech. The road could quiet literally speak “Slow Down!” and have it only be understandable when, in fact, you’re speeding. Or speak that a unexpected stop is coming up.

A road that speaks, and all it takes is the ability to scratch some lines in the dirt. Fun. What else can this concept be used for?

RT @aza How to Make the Road Speak. With Design. | Follow @aza on Twitter | All blog posts

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That idea isn’t that new, actually. It’s been a while ago that I’ve seen a video about a man who did exactly that: placing the grooves precisely so that you can hear a piece of music when driving over them [at the right speed]. Ok, it was done a little away from the highway and it basically was a one-man project, but fun nonetheless. (And, sadly, I can’t find it anymore)

Although I don’t think states/countries/whatever will start putting music on or next to highways anytime soon.



Aza Raskin

@Johannes: Ah well. Nothing is new under the sun. I don’t really expect it to be all that useful, fun though!


It was done in the Honda Civic commercial “Grooves,” featuring the musical highway in Lancaster, CA: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JI2MFvOC94A


Love the idea Aza, especially as a deterrent for speeding. I imagine you might eventually get people complaining that their tires are being damanged, or mothers of infants complaining that their baby that just went to sleep for the road trip is now awake and screaming because it felt and heard the Blue Danube.


Honda did this on a small stretch of road. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gxRgf5czTiM

The problem was that the quality of the sound is based on speed and the spacing between axles.

Unfortunately, Honda did this near peoples homes and they are really annoyed with all the sound it makes.



dl

rhythms and patterns that become to fast to ackowkledge or delineate are apparent in changing a lot of how we interface , read, watch a movie…even how a movie plays for us…

this is a really good question Aza (imho)…



Stephen Horlander

Honda did something like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gxRgf5czTiM



Chris

of course if you didn’t like the tune, you’d have an incentive to speed up …


A little more background at Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musical_road



Chris

I wonder if the vibrate function on mobile phones could be programmed to do something similar, so if the phone is left on a flat surface it plays a tune? Though that would kind of negate the whole point of silent mode!


Yeah, they have these in South Korea. The road hums some sort of song to keep drivers alert, based on grove spaces for pitch.


Technical detail, ears work the other way around. They start with frequency, and the brain constructs bumps and clicks out of the assembly of concurrent multi-frequent stimulations.

Yeah, nitpickin.


To Chris @ 7.13.09 / 3pm.

Actually in Japan they sell ring tones for silent mode. These are designed so that if you put your phone on silent+vibrate and place it on a table or some other resonant surface then you can get the table to hum a tune. On the Japanese TV show which did a segment on this, even the presenter looked very dubious.

Phil



cryptocarnivore

>>Run your finger across the top of your keyboard, starting at the “q” and finishing at the “\”<<

that could also be used to position the cursor, instead of switching to the mouse all the time….

just a thought


@cryptocarnivore: Good thought. I’ve often wanted this, but haven’t figured out how to (1) manufacture it cheaply enough to make worth it, and (2) how to distinguish between typing and pointing consistently. How about if just the area around the TYUGHJBNM area was touch sensitive?



cryptocarnivore

@Aza: i carried out some experiments with a rubber band on rolls
(like an assembly line) in parallel to the space bar, so i could
use my thumbs to horizontally position the cursor. Turned out:

- without tactile position feedback, positioning requires as
much attention as using the cursor keys

- with discrete positions implemented
(correct word is detention/notches?!?),
exact positioning requires a fairly big amount of length
between the notches to be convenient. In consequence, scrolling
through 80+ columns code becomes tedious, as several
iterations/handovers are required. I couldn’t find a good
acceleration scheme, as this contradicts the notion of discrete
positions. Ideas welcome ;-)

1) I remember a membrane keyboard (with keys as bumps) which
implemented something similar. Already out-of-production by
the time i found it and sadly the link got lost, sorry :-(

Cheapest would probably be a row of bumps (parallel to the keyboard)
to run one’s fingers over them (like a braille-line with
one bump per position).

2) from the experience above, i’m rather sceptic that just a few
keys would be sufficient. As a simple pure software test-bed
a quasi-mode for cursor positioning could be used:

hold caps-lock and type
– “HJKL” : 4 columns right (repeat at will)
– “GFD” : 3 columns left

vertical positioning becomes tricky, though



Leszek

How would this sort of keyboard-based mouse positioning be advantageous over something like a laptop’s touchpad?



cryptocarnivore

@Leszek: it’s for positioning the text cursor, not the mouse pointer. Advantage is tactile feedback


I once started an experimental project which I called “audible pointer” in which the mouse cursor would make soft sound when being moved around the screen. The pitch varied according to speed, the timbre according to the color under the pointer.

Crossing white space would sound like sliding your finger across a sheet of paper, gray areas would sound more like metal. This light-dark spectrum automatically resulted in distinctive sounds when crossing screen elements like text paragraphs, scrollbars, text boxes.

I tried to build this as an HTML/JS demo. Due to some technical restrictions I ran into, I eventually stopped, but I’d find it great to see something like this in the wild!

I started this because I was annoyed with how hard it is to find and follow the mouse pointer with the eyes on the screen and wanted to improve the cues that indicate its position. I like the trend of your last posts that go beyond visual perception.



Leszek

@cryptocarnivore: Ah, my mistake, I tend to call them the mouse cursor and caret


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What the youtube video does not show is that what we hear is no where near the same pitch that everyone else hear. There are people that train them selves to hear a dog whistle. I did not think it was possible but they had one guy stand across the field speaking normally and they had the one guy blind folded at the other end of the field so that he could not read lips, and they also had one person stand every ten yards between two people. And at the end the person after 20 yards and on could not even make a word, while the blind folded guy at the end was reaping the sentence word by word. Pretty unbelievable. The guy said that we can train our brains to hear what we want to hear high and low pitches. He also said that babies hear things we are not capable of.


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That idea isn’t that new, actually. It’s been a while ago that I’ve seen a video about a man who did exactly that: placing the grooves precisely so that you can hear a piece of music when driving over them [at the right speed]. Ok, it was done a little away from the highway and it basically was a one-man project, but fun nonetheless. (And, sadly, I can’t find it anymore)


That idea isn’t that new, actually. It’s been a while ago that I’ve seen a video about a man who did exactly that: placing the grooves precisely so that you can hear a piece of music when driving over them [at the right speed]. Ok, it was done a little away from the highway and it basically was a one-man project, but fun nonetheless. (And, sadly, I can’t find it anymore)



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That idea isn’t that new, actually. It’s been a while ago that I’ve seen a video about a man who did exactly that: placing the grooves precisely so that you can hear a piece of music when driving over them [at the right speed]. Ok, it was done a little away from the highway and it basically was a one-man project, but fun nonetheless. (And, sadly, I can’t find it anymore)


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Ubiquity is an experiment two parts. It’s both an interface and a development platform. Ubiquity 0.1 focuses on the platform aspects, while beginning to explore language-driven methods of controlling the browser.


!!!!There’s a lot of work left to be done, and a number of explicit open questions that we’d love help brainstorming on. More on that after the video.!!!!!


Yeah, they have these in South Korea. The road hums some sort of song to keep drivers alert, based on grove spaces for pitch.


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At every step something can go wrong, your mental model can get out of sync


Why use an app when you can do what bicycles usually do in Toronto, ride like you own the roads, sidewalks, and anything else that they can ride on.


fffexactly that: placing the grooves precisely so that you can hear a piece of music when driving over them [at the right speed]. Ok, it was done a little away from the highway and it basically was a one-man project, but fun nonetheless. (And, sadly, I can’t find it anymorefff


You are witnessing an amazing process of synthesis in your brain. There is no pitch out in the real world, just a series of short and sequential air-molecule vibrations. Your brain takes these little clicks and, depending on how fast their coming in, translates them into a melodious sound. Your brain wants to hear pitch.
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One final thought: if we vary the type of grooves by changing their cut shape, we might be able to reproduce different timbers.


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