SPEK investigates the future of “informal AR-enabled commerce.“ Designed by first-year students Bernice Wong, Alexia Cohen, and Teng Yu as part of their Systems, Scale and Consequence class, SPEK is a platform that uses "inconspicuous, smart eyewear” to create and access an underground exchange network. “With SPEK, the future of retail turns to the streets,” the team argues. “In the midst of any urban environment, participants—also known as SPEKulators—will be within their own eclectic marketplace, each able to buy, sell, or trade items amongst peers.”
SPEK is a platform that uses "inconspicuous, smart eyewear” to create and access an underground exchange network.
Here’s how it the platform works: Users will be able to define their wants and needs vocally to the glasses, triggering SPEK to scan the network of other nearby users for the desired goods or services, and displaying the results in a heads-up display. Through facial recognition, SPEK will be able to suggest suitable trade opportunities linked to each user. “SPEKulators will then be able to accept, negotiate, or reject the exchange.”
“Of course, all transactions involving currency will use Bitcoin for privacy, and to maintain the underground nature of the network,” submits the designers. “Additionally, SPEK can enhance the transparency of each transaction using image recognition to guarantee the objective nature of the item(s) to be traded. Here, SPEK will analyze the physical characteristics of the object, verifying its authenticity through unique search parameters, and letting the user know if the product is as the seller claims.”
The designers were inspired by the hustle and bustle of souk, or bazaar-style marketplaces.
The project began with the group’s mutual interest in creating a space for post-capitalist, barter-based economies. After lengthy discussion, the group came up with an initial concept called 6D—“representing both 6 dimensions, and 6 degrees of separation,” they reasoned. “We envisioned a 6-screen interface, enabling the user to participate in retail as it is known today, or to participate in bartering opportunities with everyone from the user’s immediate network, to '6 degrees' down the user’s network chain—effectively creating a global network.”
In its next iterations, the designers attempted to create a locus for public forums, allowing participants to interact with one another in person. “We were drawn to creating a future that would encourage community building, rather than resigning the design to a future that pushed buyers to stay at home and participate solely through a screen—a direction in which much of our commerce is currently moving.” As such, the designers were inspired by the hustle and bustle of souk, or bazaar-style marketplaces.
"Participants can quickly move past the screens, encouraging barter interactions. As such, we are essentially creating what we call a 'moving marketplace.'”
“We quickly realized that we were actually limiting our idea—creating a singular marketplace. So we reimagined the concept as an augmented reality platform where users were equipped with screens (the smart glasses) to initially enable the connections, sure. But then those participants could quickly move past the screens, encouraging barter interactions. As such, we are essentially creating what we call a 'moving marketplace.'”
The project was inspiring for the designers in that it gave them an opportunity to study informal economies, the dark web, bitcoin and blockchain—all elements that are proving to have an increasing role in our near futures. The designers were also confident about the hardware element of the proposal, quoting Mark Zuckerberg: “Over the next 10 years, the form factor’s just going to keep on getting smaller and smaller, and eventually we’re going to have what looks like normal-looking glasses that can do both virtual and augmented reality.”
Here's the project poster below: