Smile Meter Reacts to Your Expressions With Pharrell’s Happy

MIT's Smile Meter

Here’s a clever use of a webcam and some facial recognition software — They call it Happy ++ and it will DJ [Pharrell's] Happy according to how much you’re smiling (or not at all!).

It’s another project to come out of MIT’s Media Lab for a spring event this year by [Rob, Dan & Javier]. The facial tracking software was re-used from an older project, the MIT Mood Meter, which was a clever installation that had several zones on campus tracking the apparent “happiness” of the students walking by.

To create the program they’ve split up the song Happy into its various components. Drums, vocals, band, and the full mix. As the webcam recognizes a smile, it records the intensity, which in turn turns up the vocals and band. If no smiling is present there is only a drum beat.  [Read more...]

LightByte: Animated Shutters


Here’s another interesting project to come out of the MIT Media Lab — it’s called LightByte, and it’s all about interacting with sunlight and shadows in a new, rather unorthodox way.

We suppose its technical name could be a massive interactive sun pixel facade, but that’s a bit too much of a mouthful. What you really want to know is how it works, and the answer is, a lot of servos. We weren’t able to find an exact number but the hardware behind LightByte includes well over 100 servos, and a matrix of Arduinos to control them. While that is quite impressive by itself, it gets better — it’s actually completely interactive; recognizing gestures, responding to text messages and emails, and you can even draw pictures with the included “wand”.

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Circuit Stickers


One of our tipsters just sent an interesting crowd funding project our way. They’re called Circuit Stickers and are a very creative way to get basic electronics into children’s hands through arts and crafts.

The project is the brainchild of [Bunnie] and [Jie Qi]. [Bunnie] is a hacker, and a Director of Studio Kosagi, a small manufacturing outfit in Singapore. [Jie] on the other hand is a PhD student at the MIT Media Lab, who focuses her research on combining electronics and programming with arts and crafts. They came up with this idea to bridge the gap that exists between electronics and the arts, and the stickers are a great start. They allow anyone to learn basic electronics in a very easy and friendly way, using skills we all learned as children, drawing and sticking stickers on everything.

The current offering includes LED stickers, effects stickers (to control the LEDs), sensors, microcontrollers, and even breakout boards. They are all in sticker form, and can be connected together using  conductive fabric, thread, carbon-based paint, copper tape, pencil graphite, and really, anything conductive. They have already manufactured thousands of the stickers and everything is working as designed, so the crowdfunding campaign isn’t to raise funds to continue research, or even to start their company. It’s more of getting it out there, and getting these stickers into children’s hands to raise the next generation of hackers from a young age.

The video after the break gives a great overview of the project, and if anything we think it’ll give you some great ideas on children’s electronics projects.

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inFORM the Morphing Table Gets Even More Interactive


Remember last week’s post on the inFORM, MIT’s morphing table? Well they just released a new video showing off what it can do, and it’s pretty impressive.

The new setup features two separate interfaces, and they’ve added a display  so you can see the person who is manipulating the surface. This springs to life a whole new realm of possibilities for the tactile digital experience. The inFORM also has a projector shining on the surface, which allows the objects shown from the other side to be both visually and physically seen — they use an example of opening a book and displaying its pages on the surface. To track the hand movements they use a plain old Microsoft Kinect, which works extremely well. They also show off the table as a standalone unit, an interactive table — Now all they need to do is make the pixels smaller… 

Stick around after the break to see some more awesome examples of the possibilities of this new tactile-digital interface. There are also some great clips near the end of the video showing off the complex linkage system that makes it all work.

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inFORM: MIT’s Morphing Table

inFORM table

Have you ever wished your dinner table could pass the salt? Advancements at MIT may soon make this a reality — although it might spill the salt everywhere. Enter the inFORM: Dynamic Physical Affordances and Constraints through Shape and Object Actuation.

While the MIT paper doesn’t go into much detail of the hardware itself, there are a few juicy tidbits that explain how it works. There are 900 individually actuated white polystyrene pins that make up the surface, in an array of 30 x 30 pixels. An overhead projector provides visual guidance of the system. Each pin can actuate 100mm, exerting a force of up to 1.08 Newtons each. To achieve the actuation, push-pull rods are utilized to maximize the dense pin arrangement as seen, making the display independent of the size of the actuators. The actuation is achieved by motorized slide potentiometers grouped in sets of 6 using custom PCBs that are driven by ATMega2560s — this allows for an excellent method of PID feedback right off the actuators themselves. There is an excellent image of the entire system on page 8 of the paper that shows both the scale and complexity of the build. Sadly it does not look like something that could be easily built at home, but hey, we’d love for someone to prove us wrong!

Stick around after the break to see this fascinating piece of technology in action. The video has been posted by a random Russian YouTube account, and we couldn’t find the original source for it — so if you can, let us know in the comments!

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MIT Media Lab’s month in Shenzhen


When you’ve got a month worth of blog postings it’s pretty difficult to choose one photograph that sums it all up. This one shows the tour group from MIT Media Lab in ESD garb ready for their tour of Okano SMT and Speaker Factory. It was part of a tour of Shenzhen aimed at bringing graduate students up to speed on what it means to manufacture products in the city. Luckily, Freaklabs member [Akiba] was one of the staff members of the program and blogged extensively about the experience. At first glance his page full of post abstracts looks really boring, but click through because both his recount and the commented images associated with each day are fun and fascinating ways to tag along with the group.

If you’re really good with faces you can pick [Bunnie Huang] out of the lineup above (he’s the third from the right). He had the original idea for the program and brought aboard a few others to help make the thing a success. The group toured a wide range of factories and parts markets in the city. This included your traditional electronics manufacturing venues but there was even a side trip to a diaper and feminine napkin plant to see the non-electronic factories in operation. In addition to tours there were lectures by industry members like HAXLR8R, a group that specializes in helping start-ups navigate the manufacturing jungle.