The machine has been installed in a school for the visually impaired – the film above shows children there making use of it. Each child says a word into the machine – ‘giraffe’ or ‘Tyrannosaurus’ are two examples – and it then prints a model of the named animal. The implication is that this then allows the children their first interaction with how the word ‘feels’, in a way that would never be possible with an on-screen search.
As the making-of film below shows, the machine really does exist. Presumably though, it is a one-off for the ad campaign, and in that case is it really much more than a voice-activated printer? It’s also difficult to know whether it will really be of much use to the school once the initial thrill of printing an object just by speaking a word has worn off (which might actually take a while).
Before we all get lost in cynicism though, the film does make a wider point about the way we think about the internet too. As 3D printing becomes more widespread, and our interaction with computers more instinctive, by the use of voice and touch rather than keyboard and mouse, the internet will no longer be something that’s accessible only on screen but potentially all around us.
This is of course not a new idea in the tech world, but machines such as Yahoo’s Hands On Search introduce it to a mainstream audience in a way that feels intriguing and, crucially, non-threatening. The website for this project describes it as a ‘first step towards a new search’ – if that’s genuinely true it will be really interesting to see what comes next.