MSR Cloudgirl

Prototyping Connected Devices for IoT

The motivation behind this project was to replicate the work of Kuzuoka and Greenberg [2] who explored the use of telepresence proxies. These are devices which incorporate cameras and displays and are configured to share images between different physical locations. We built a number of networked Gadgeteer devices, each incorporating a display and camera, and developed a simple application which would periodically take a photo and upload it to an Azure-based web service. The web service was configured to make the most recent photo from each device available to all the other telepresence devices. By displaying the latest photos from other devices in a round-robin sequence, a level of mutual awareness between users at different physical locations can be maintained. By deploying these devices we were able to experience this lightweight form of telepresence and at the same time we explored different device form factors by creating a range of enclosures for the necessary electronics.

Prototyping the Interaction Design

The first physical prototype was purely functional and was mostly created to hold the Gadgeteer modules in place. First design questions were provoked such as: How to deal with power and network cables? Where to put the camera? Also the placing of the rotary encoder for changing the delay between pictures taken was in question. Furthermore, it became obviouse that products designed with Gadgeteer modules tend to become bulky and the product takes easily the shape of a lump.

Interface Design

The discontent with the lumping from the first prototype sparked the idea to stetch out the modules as far a possible and also build on their stength of being fairly flat in shape.

Our formal design language found for the project, the cabeling situation resulted in another idea. Users should profit from the flexibility of the cable allowing to orient modules freely. Screw lock hinges were invented to lock the case modules in place. In this way the user can give the artifact different custom shapes and make the device become a part of the living room. The internet connected device is not just a technical seperate device, but also a functional type of "furniture", table mat or book stopper, which blends into the living space.

As the Gadgeteer toolchain allows easy customization in hardware, sofware and form design each project member created his own telepresence device. The picture above shows my 1965 Italien design style device. The same formal language is visible. Designing for the flat, but combined with "chunky" and rounded, blobby aesthetics. Interaction design wise, for me, the dial for the privacy function was also for private interaction. Thus, I hid it behind the screen, but easily reachable and usable for the right hand.


[1] Steve Hodges, Stuart Taylor, Nicolas Villar, James Scott, Dominik Bial, Patrick Tobias Fischer. Prototyping Connected Devices for the Internet of Things. IEEE: Special Issue on Internet of Things. February 2012.

[2] Hideaki Kuzuoka and Saul Greenberg. 1999. Mediating awareness and communication through digital but physical surrogates. In CHI '99 extended abstracts. pp. 11-12.



Microsoft Research
Nicolas Villar (Senior Researcher)

Product Design:
John Helmes (Senior Designer)
Patrick Tobias Fischer

Interface Design:
Patrick Tobias Fischer
Nicolas Villar

Stuart Taylor
Patrick Tobias Fischer