A team of ex-Apple employees wants to replace smartphones with this AI projector

Humane, a startup that is backed by OpenAI's CEO and Microsoft, demoed its interface projecting device at TED 2023. Here's a first look.
Written by Kerry Wan, Senior Reviews Editor
Humane's projector beaming against the palm of a hand.
Zarif Ali/TED

There's been a lot of chatter recently surrounding Apple's upcoming mixed reality headset and the potential of it becoming the "next big thing" since the debut of the original iPhone. However, the future of mobile technology may be within closer reach than we think -- and may come in the form of hand projections.

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Tech enthusiasts should be familiar with a secretive startup by the name of Humane which, over the past few years, has been drip-feeding mission statements and marketing lingo that hint towards a consumer product that will "reshape the role of technology in our lives." Last night, the company unveiled said product at a TED Talk, but only a snippet to keep folks like me awake.

At the live conference, Humane founder Imran Chaudhri unveiled a pocketable projector that stemmed out from his shirt, as screen recorded by journalist Zarif Ali. The device, which was smaller than a traditional smartphone, had an array of cameras and sensors at the top that could project visual interfaces onto hands, tabletops, or really any surface. (Does this remind anyone else of the SixthSense wearable previously developed at MIT?)

With the projector beaming against his palm, Chaudhri answered and interacted with an incoming phone call via voice controls and gestures. It's a seamless blend of technology and human interaction that Humane believes can extend to daily schedule run-downs, seeing map directions, and receiving visual aids for cooking or when fixing a car engine -- as suggested by the company's public patents. The list goes on.

Chaudhri also demoed the wearable's voice translator which converted his English into French while using an AI-generated voice to retain his tone and timbre, as reported by designer Michael Mofina, who watched the recorded TED Talk before it was taken down. Mofina also shared an instance when the wearable was able to recap the user's missed notifications without sounding invasive, framing them as, "You got an email, and Bethany sent you some photos."

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Perhaps the biggest draw to Humane and its AI projector is the team behind it. That roster includes Chaudhri, a former Director of Design at Apple who worked on the Mac, iPod, iPhone, and other prominent devices, and Bethany Bongiorno, also from Apple and was heavily involved in the software management of iOS and MacOS. To date, Humane has raised over $230 million in funding from investors including OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, and Microsoft, as reported by TechCrunch.

As for what more is to come from Humane, your guess is as good as mine. Perhaps the future of mobile technology may actually come in the form of screenless interfaces... or mixed reality headsets... or just continue on as smartphones. Stay tuned.

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