[Image: From Pierre Huyghe, “Les grandes ensembles” (2001)].

A short news items in New Scientist this week describes the work of University of Michigan engineers who have developed a way to, in effect, synchronize architectural structures at a distance. They refer to this as “ghosting”:

When someone turns the lights on in one kitchen, they automatically switch on in the connected house. Sounds are picked up and relayed, too. Engineers at the University of Michigan successfully linked an apartment in Michigan with one in Maryland. The work was presented at the IoT-App conference in Seoul, South Korea, last week.

I haven’t found any more details about the project—including why, exactly, one would want to do this, other than perhaps to create some strange new electrical variation on “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” where a secret reference-apartment is kept burning away somewhere in the American night—but no doubt more info will come to light soon.*

*Update: Such as right now: here is the original paper. There, we read the following:

Ghosting synchronizes audio and lighting between two homes on a room-by-room basis. Microphones in each room transmit audio to the corresponding room in the other home, unifying the ambient sound domains of the two homes. For example, a user cooking in their kitchen transmits sounds out of speakers in the other user’s own kitchen. The lighting context in corresponding rooms is also synchronized. A light toggled in one house toggles the lights in the other house in real time. We claim that this system allows for casual interactions that feel natural and intimate because they share context and require less social effort than a teleconference or phone call.

Thanks to Nick Arvin, both for finding the paper and for highlighting that particular quotation.

3 thoughts on “Ghosting”

  1. hmmm… Seems like an interesting development, though I don't see the use of lighting in the equation.

    Imagine being in a situation where your loved ones are sitting in a different home or a different city. There are no phones that are connecting you but your entire house. As they walk through the house, doing things that concern them, they can talk to you and you can respond.

    Of course, this assumes that pretty much the entire house is both listening to you and is also embedded with speakers which relay their voice back to you. It also assumes that the mics will be directional and will sense where your loved one is, so that the other mics in their house don't pick up on their voice.

  2. This reminds me of an old Steven Write joke about the switch in his kitchen that does nothing. Every once in a while he flips it on and off just to check. Eventually he got a call from a woman in Madagascar telling him to cut it out.

  3. reminiscent of the final scenes of Neal Stephenson's "The Big U", wherein the only sane students left in a mega-university use radio broadcasts to synchronize the residential towers of the school, each of which has been occupied by a different faction of students, by telling them to flick their lights on and off in sequence.

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