Disruptive Technologies – Sixth Sense (Module 4)

Remember the movies Minority Report (2002), Iron Man 1, 2, and 3 (2008, 2010, 2013), or the television series Continuum (2012 to present)? Remember the technologies in them? Ever wonder what they have in common?

minority report1

Figure 1. Tom Cruise in Minority Report (2002).  Tom Cruise, playing Chief John Anderton, is using gloves with special sensors to manipulate a projected image of a future murder in order to determine a location and attempt to stop it from happening.

Each of the sci-fi gems, as well as a host of others, include a technology that many believe is still far from being realized, but, in fact, has already been developed…that is, the ability to project images or videos onto any surface and manipulate those projections with just a swipe of your hand.  The technology is called Sixth Sense.  It was developed by Pranav Mistry and was first demonstrated at a TED conference in India in 2009.

The SixthSense technology is comprised of a camera that acts as an “eye”, a projector that projects images onto any surface, and four colored sensors worn on the fingers.

‘SixthSense’ is a wearable gestural interface that augments the physical world around us with digital information and lets us use natural hand gestures to interact with that information. By using a camera and a tiny projector mounted in a pendant like wearable device, ‘SixthSense’ sees what you see and visually augments any surfaces or objects we are interacting with. It projects information onto surfaces, walls, and physical objects around us, and lets us interact with the projected information through natural hand gestures, arm movements, or our interaction with the object itself. ‘SixthSense’ attempts to free information from its confines by seamlessly integrating it with reality, and thus making the entire world your computer (Mistry, 2013a).


Figure 2. SixthSense Technology hardware. Pranav Mistry demonstrates the hardware involved in SixthSense, including the camera, projector, and color marker sensors (Mistry, 2013b).

According to Thornburg (Laureate Education, 2014), a disruptive technology is one that comes seemingly out of nowhere to serve a purpose more effectively and efficiently than one that has been on an evolutionary path to do so.  SixthSense technology can be described as a disruptive technology because it, if ever completely produced and distributed, could replace our current means of computing, communicating, taking pictures, gaming and learning. Instead of sitting in front of a computer, even a laptop that can be taken anywhere, Sixth Sense projects onto a wall, a piece of paper, or your even your hand so that your “computer” is literally anywhere you are. Pictures can be taken, not with a camera, but by just making a gesture of taking a picture by framing the fingers with colored sensors around the would-be picture.  Phone calls can be made by dialing the number on the palm of one’s hand, and things like book reviews, news articles, and videos can be found by holding up the cover of a book, newspaper, or image of movie so the camera can see it…say goodbye to Google searches, cell phones, tablets, and laptops!


Figure 3. Video news report plays on newspaper front page.  Mistry demonstrates the how SixthSense technology can recognize a newspaper headline and play related reports on the newspaper print without having to pull open a cell phone or computer (Mistry, 2013b).


Figure 4. Dial a number on your hand.  Mistry dials a phone number using the palm of his hand instead of having to search for his cell phone (Mistry, 2013b).

SixthSense technology has both great potential and possible social implications that could follow should it ever reach the market.  For one, education-wise, teachers and students could take the projectors along on field trips and instantly gain access to additional information regarding historical sites, art showcases, etc., that they are visiting. Finding books for book reports; researching news articles and stories for current events; and taking and sharing pictures for photography class will have a whole new added dimension of interest for students, especially if what they find can be shared with others anytime, anywhere.

Although the information can be gathered by connecting devices like computers and mobiles but they are restricted to the screen and there is no direct interaction between the tangible physical world and intangible digital world. This sixth sense technology provides us with the freedom of interacting with the digital world with hand gestures (SixthSense Technology, 2012, Why Choose SixthSense Technology?).

However, the “pinch and drag” feature that allows users to “pinch” a picture or text in the physical world and “drag” it to a computer screen like a “copy and paste” means teachers are going to have to be extra diligent about looking for plagiarism, especially when it comes to siting the sources of images.  This technology may also require the writers of the APA and MLA manuals to add a section on how to cite, reference, and format information found using SixthSense.


Figure 5. SixthSense displays photos anywhere. Mistry shows how SixthSense technology allows users to display and edit photos on any surface, including a wall (Mistry, 2013b).

At this point, Mistry has no intention of mass producing SixthSense.  Instead, he has posted instructions on what it takes to make SixthSense for yourself, including a link to download the software needed for free.  Until a major corporation or investor comes along to have someone mass produce the technology, it may be several years before the it reaches the majority of the population.  Only after SixthSense technology, or something similar, become an essential tool to our daily lives do I see it being replaced by “the next best thing”.


Laureate Education (Producer). (2014a). David Thornburg: Disruptive technologies [Video file]. Baltimore, MD: Author.

Mistry, P. (2013a). SixthSense / WUW- Wear Ur World. Retrieved from  http://www.pranavmistry.com/

Mistry, P. (2013b). SixthSense: Integrating Information in the Real World. Retrieved from http://www.pranavmistry.com/projects/sixthsense/

SixthSense Technology. (2012). Retrieved from http://www.engineersgarage.com/articles/sixth-sense-technology

TED India. (Producer). (2009). The thrilling potential of SixthSense technology [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/pranav_mistry_the_thrilling_potential_of_sixthsense_technology.html


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