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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 August, 2003, 09:21 GMT 10:21 UK
Smart chips making daily life easier
The microchips have sensors attached to them
The microchips have sensors attached to them
"Your medicine is out of date" is not what you would usually expect to hear from your bathroom cabinet, but it could be very soon.

It is all thanks to what is being called "ubiquitous computing", which means sticking programmable microchip sensors onto everyday household objects to make them a little bit smarter.

Martin Strohbach is a researcher with the Smart-Its Project, a group of European universities working on the sensors. He was sharing the group's vision at the recent computer graphics Siggraph exhibition in the US.

"We use tables and chairs and augment them with sensors. For example, we have used a table as a mouse pointing interface so you can control the TV or computer," he explained to Go Digital, the BBC World Service radio programme.

Chips with everything

Martin Strohbach of Smart-Its Project demonstrates the 'mouse desk'
Martin Strohbach of Smart-Its Project demonstrates the 'mouse desk'

The Smart-Its Project - a collaboration between Lancaster University and several other institutions in Zurich, Germany, Sweden and Finland - has a vision to tag almost any object in the home with the microchips to make peoples' daily lives easier.

Bookshelves could start complaining if they are dangerously overloaded and water bottles could tell you if their contents need cooling.

It all sounds like a bit of fun, but there are more serious and possibly life-saving uses for the technology.

"It could be used in caring for elderly people. The sensors would recognise if they have fallen on the floor or can't stand up anymore. It's much less intrusive than cameras," Strohbach says.

Equally, that chatty, smart medicine cabinet could track and guide you through your medicine taking.

Flatpack mishaps

The chips have already been developed for DIY flatpacks.

The microchips can be attached to any everyday object
The microchips can be attached to any everyday object

Green and red lights on the various components sense movement and light up to let you know if you are attaching a chair leg to the wrong bit.

A dalek-like voice will embarrassingly inform you of your error before you make any permanent mistakes.

However, it remains to be seen whether DIY enthusiasts prefer the blood, sweat and tears of trial and error over being told what to do.

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