MediumX = physical tools for geologist to interact with paper in a digital way
In the summer of 2013, I travelled the deserts of Saudi Arabia with a team of old-school geologists. We lived in the north-east oil rich part of the country, with temperatures reaching 120F every single afternoon. I spent a month learning and living as an amateur geologist in these deserts, I collected and analyzed soil samples, took seismic readings, studied cut sections extracted from thousands of miles underground.
As I spent more and more time with the geologist, I realized how important their analog hand tools were; and how being forced to use digital technology was actually meddling with their creativity and productivity. They were forced to use tablets to record readings while in the field, although a great solution on paper - but when you realize that in those extreme temperatures your gadgets overheat and shutdown in a minute - leaving you no choice but to pad them which makes it unbearably heavy while you are in the dusty outdoors.
Same goes for their work environment in the office. Geologists deal with a lot of data - data across scales - from microscopic readings of grains to mile long readings of soil profile. And switching between all these on a 20" LCD screen is ridiculous. As a result, you'd see their offices have more charts, papers and diagrams on their walls than paint.
Living through all this, I decided to synthesize the affordances and practicality of the physical tools with the advantages of digital to come up with a new medium - a smarter medium situated in their own natural workspace - MediumX.
A smart pen which functions as a regular pen with ink. You can use any regular paper to write on, the clip of the pad has an IR sensor which records strokes from the pen. Apart from digitizing the observations in real time, you could also execute commands on paper - ex. if you write 'Mail to Steve' on the physical paper with ink, the recording would be sent to Steve in a digital form. You could also tag the reading making it easier to search later.
An augmented screen which pulls data from digital wire logs (these are machines which analyze the rocks hundreds of miles underground for gamma radiation and other readings) and augments these digital readings onto the real blocks of rock as you view them through this screen. Traditionally the geologists would observe these rocks in a storage facility and then go back to their workstations to pull out data and then cross reference. This augmentation provides data in a visual form just-in-time on the object to aid in creative investigation.
A geology lab has thousands upon thousands of thin sections which require analysis under a microscope. They need to be checked out from a central lab facility where they are already photographed in gigabit resolution. Requiring a microscope while you analyze these sections also places a considerable workspace constraint, you have to be in the lab to analyze them. Using the smart pen and markers on the section now allows geologists to retrieve those gigabit scans onto their devices, hence allowing for quick analysis anywhere anytime.
These tools were well received by the geologists at Saudi Aramco - the world's biggest oil company, with special thanks for living amongst them for a month to then coming up with a solution that addresses the need at its core rather than simply proposing something out of a comfortable office in Cambridge. For what its worth, they also gave me a 'Honorary Geologist' certificate for my empathetic efforts :)