An application to speak with the eyes, a page that finds works of art similar to any drawing or a paper envelope to stop using the mobile so much. These are some of the experiments of Google’s creative laboratory. A team made up of designers, writers, filmmakers, animators or creatives that aims to revolutionize the art or music sector and promote digital well-being and accessibility through technology.
A printed paper envelope to store the mobile
An average user will spend almost nine years of their life using their mobile, according to the device comparer WhistleOut. There are multiple tools to control phone use. Some indicate the time that is used and also allow to set alerts when a limit is exceeded. But Google has a much more rudimentary proposal: put the mobile in a printed paper envelope that only allows you to make and receive calls to avoid distractions. At the moment this experiment, dubbed the Envelope, is only available with the Google Pixel 3a.
Before putting the mobile phone in the paper envelope, the user must download an application that greatly simplifies the use of the phone. The packaging is printed with the numbers 0 to 9 to make calls. “Surprisingly, touchscreens still work through a layer of paper (you can try it right now!) Because they detect the capacitance of your finger, which is only slightly affected by the envelope,” the company explains. But the most peculiar thing about Google’s proposal is that you have to apply glue to a tab of the envelope. That is, the mobile is literally locked up and, if you want to use it in a conventional way, you would have to tear the paper.
Google also has other experiments related to digital well-being. Unlock Clock notifies the user of how many times the mobile has been unlocked in a day. Screen Stopwatch informs you how long you have used the phone. Desert Island only allows you to access the applications of your choice for 24 hours. And Post Box is used to establish how many times a day you want to receive notifications and receive them organized according to whether they are news, messages or alerts from the bank.
Speak with the gaze
In 2020 Sarah Ezekiel, an artist with a neurological disease that makes it difficult for her to communicate, and her therapist met with a team of scientists from Google to explore how technology could help her express herself. The result of these meetings was Look to speak, an application that allows you to use your eyes to select pre-established phrases and have the mobile pronounce them aloud. “Hello”, “thank you”, “what’s your name?”, “I need help”, “music” or “water” are some of the predefined expressions. You can also add new phrases with the keyboard.
When you open the application, which has been available in Spanish for a few weeks, two columns appear — one on each side — with various expressions. The front camera of the mobile detects if the user looks to the right or to the left depending on what he wants to say. This tool works well and is very simple to use, but it can be limited compared to other alternatives that allow you to say any sentence choosing letter by letter with your eyes.
Discover art from sketches
Use a drawing to find similar works of art. It is the goal of Draw to art, a tool that uses machine learning to display museum paintings and sculptures similar to the user’s doodles. “We train a deep neural network to recognize visual features in squiggles and associate them with similar features in works of art,” explains Xavier Barrade, designer of Google’s Creative Lab.
The user can choose between different preset shapes. For example, you can paint squares, triangles, circles, hexagons, or hearts. As you draw, the system searches for similar works. By tracing one circle within another, the system suggests the Chandra Mandala, found in the Rubin Museum of Art in New York; the oval design of the Church of San Michele in Bosco (Bologna), which is exhibited in the National Gallery of Art in Washington; or a mirror from the Bagatti Valsecchi Museum in Milan.
Create songs intuitively
Some teachers turn to Google tools to explore music in the classroom and its connections with science, the maths O the art. Song Maker is a tool that allows you to create songs from any device through a web page. There are three ways to do this: with the device’s microphone – the system converts the voice into notes -, by connecting certain piano keyboards, or by clicking on the notes with the mouse or finger. This last option is the simplest if you do not have musical knowledge. Just click on some boxes that represent the notes to fill them with color and create a melody. Afterwards, it is possible to change the rhythm of the song and the instrument that plays it: from marimba to piano to string or wind instruments.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.