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Smart Things

By LEG [leg@telekabel.at]

Smart Desk

A Smart Desk looks like a normal desk with a translucent glass plate. The desk contains a set of projectors that create a high-resolution image on the desks surface, and a laser scanner that functions very much like a scanner combined with a LADAR.

The entire surface of the Smart Desk is not just a screen, but also an interactive surface. The laser scanner can recognize and read objects placed on the surface of the Smart Desk. It can recognize fingerprints, read pages and optical storage media placed face down on the desk. It is assumed that a Smart Desk makes Scanners unnecessary as long as no double-sided pages must be scanned. The same applies to storage media. It is up to the GM to decide whether TL8 storage media are single- or double-sided. As a rule of thumb, assume that early TL8 media are always double-sided. It can also write to all storage media on its surface, as well as any device on its surface that has a laser receiver. This applies to Smart Objects as well as many peripherals. Place the printer on the desk, the laser finds it and sends files to be printed. It is even possible to print on special sheets of paper that reacts when struck by laser light (costs 5 times the price of normal paper, can only be printed one-sided).

The laser scanner can recognize objects and persons immediately in front of the desk. It can see the user in a rudimentary fashion and scans his eye movements to learn where he looks. This works very much like the Pupil Scanner in p. VEII58 (described under the entry for the HUDWAC) . The system is rather simple, and is only meant to detect where the user looks on the desk to follow his orders more effectively ("Send that to Jones!").

The files appear as icons on the desk that can be manipulated with ones fingertips. The desk reacts to speech and can also recognized the gestures of the user. There should be a language of simple gestures for commands. e.g. if the user "grabs" a file and "drops" it on a folder icon, the computer moves the file. The Desk can also form buttons and appear as a technical console as well. It is possible to interact with other people through videoconferencing and gestures. Just "grab" a file and "throw" it at the image of someone on the screen!

How "smart" the desk actually is depends on the attached computer:

A Smart Desk is available at TL8 and higher (Late TL9 desks have three-dimensional holographic icons and TL10 desk are totally holographic). It weighs the same as a Terminal at the given TL and is treated as a Terminal. At TL8, it costs 50% more than a standard Terminal.

In game terms, a Smart Desk can function both as office equipment and as a starship gunnery station. It is suited for just about any task, which makes it attractive to adventurers who need a computer workspace that does just about anything.

The Smart Desk can appear in campaigns in various ways:

Smart Rooms

A Smart Room is a room (or a building!) with lots of sensors and cameras that respond to the words, movements and gestures of inhabitants. Every room needs a set of sensors equal to the Basic Sensors of a robot with the Modifiers No Sense of Smell/Taste and 360-Degree Vision (Cost $10.000 at TL8, 5.000 at TL9, Weight 5 pounds at TL8, 2 pounds at TL9, see p. R14). Note that the cost can be much lower if the room already has some sensors that the computer running the Smart Room has access to (Surveillance cameras, Smart Desks, Robots with sensors, multimedia workstations, Videophones etc.).

The room must also have screens that cover the wall completely (costs about $50 per square yard, using back projection, $200 per square yard for Smart Paper).

A computer must run a Complexity 3 program per active room (that is, for every room people are in) to allow the rooms to function. A Smart Room can do the following:

Smart Objects

The Smart Object is the TL8 way to carry small amounts of data. A Smart Object can be of just about any shape; most look like pens, big signet rings, watches, brooches, netsuke, whatever.

A Smart Object has a tiny processor, some sensors and lots of storage space. It can store and send data as needed. The object is commanded either by placing it on a Smart Desk, which creates a command window with a file manager where the object sits, or by moving it in a specific way, which is recorded by the sensors. When the owner of a Smart Object passes an electronic ad on the street that supports Smart Objects, all he has to do is pull it from his pocket and wave it in front of the ad. The Smart Object requests more information from the electronic billboard through radio or infrared, and stores it. The participants of a meeting hold up their Smart Objects when they want to speak, and the objects send the appropriate request to the house computer, which forwards the request to the chair. If a file is distributed, anybody who wants it wiggles his Smart Object twice, and so on.

An Smart Object stores 200GB of data, costs $50-100, has negligible weight and is available at TL8.

At mid-TL8, Smart Objects begin to merge with cellular phones. Such Smart Phones can send and receive data through a public data network while a conversation is going on.

For an extra 100$, a Smart Object in pencil form is available that can record the writing movements made by the user. The Smart Object can store this writing and later replay it into a computer that has handwriting recognition, or even identify the user through his signature. Some societies may use sealed, tamper-proof pencils that flash green when the signature is correct. This form of identification seems primitive, but is difficult to fake as the Smart Object reacts to such things as speed and position that are extremely difficult to imitate. A cyborg could program a mechanical arm to imitate the movements in the correct order and speed, but this is still difficult. It requires a precise recording and some testing with the Object, which, in turn, may be set to self-destruct if it detects repetitive movements that hint at a practicing forger.

Uses in the Campaign

The PCs find a murder victim in a back alley, and his Smart Object is stolen while his cash is untouched. What was on the Smart Object? Did it pick up a transmission meant for somebody else? Did other Smart Objects in the vicinity pick up the same transmission? What is this funny encrypted file on the PCs Smart Objects?

Real Smart Things

The technology for Smart Rooms and Smart Desks may be not that far off. There is some material at MIT Media Lab VisMod Cluster: ALIVE.