Ask A Winner Updates Day 2: Answers

Not too long ago we asked our readers what they would like to hear about from the PUSH N900 winners and their hacks. We got some silly questions, and some serious, we asked both and now the PUSH teams have answered.

The Haptic Guide team took a moment of their time for us today. Their N900 hack is a belt that helps point you in the right direction with motors. But after our interview we found out they had much much bigger plans. Remember to check their blog for updates – including new video of their progress (sweet flexible circuit boards guys!)

>Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for HackaDay. We love when a hacker is willing to share their work with us.

>How did you and your team get together? Any fun backstory you care to share?

[Mike] and [Tim] worked together at Dell for nearly two years.  After the call center in Edmonton closed, they maintained contact and soon decided to compete against each other in the Microsoft “embeddedSPARK” competition in 2008/2009.  Even though they were competing against each other, they worked together often while figuring out the Window CE development tools.  [Tim] has strong skills with software development and [Mike] is strong with hardware development.  While helping each other complete their projects, they discovered that they made a really good team.  When the Nokia PUSH competition came about, they decided to work together on it.

>Have you and your team worked on any other projects? Cellular related projects? N900 projects?

We have competed (against each other) in the Microsoft “embeddedSPARK” 2008/2009 competition and have both made it to round 2 of the 2009/2010 competition as well.  We also occasionally work on side projects both individually and together as hobbyists.
The PUSH N900 competition was our first joint venture into the world of cell phone hacking.  [Tim] had previously experimented lightly in building applications for Windows Mobile devices, but no other platforms.

>What was your main inspiration for your team’s project?

[Mike] has liked the idea of a haptic compass since he first read about one.  We spent an evening brainstorming in preparation for the PUSH competition and the idea of doing something with a haptic compass kept floating back to the surface.  We decided to expand on the idea, as a haptic compass by itself was nothing new.  Instead, we decided it would be perfectly complimented with a cell phone like the N900 to give it much more capability and even a social aspect.

>How do you think people will react when you finish/release?

We largely suspect people will react in one of two ways.  First, there will be a large group of people that have never seen the like before and will look at it with an open mind and see the great potential of the product.  Second, there will be a group of people that have seen a haptic compass before and will make the incorrect assumption that the project is just an unoriginal copy of that.  We hope that the second group will look at the project again and realize that the belt itself is only a tool to help realize the larger picture.
There is a much larger vision for the Haptic Guide project than most people might realize.  The primary focus on the blogs has been around the belt, which is a critical component, but the fact is that it is the N900 gives the project its primary value.  The N900 is able to take photos and automatically encode them with geo-tags.  These photos can then be shared online or sent to friends and they can use their N900 and the Haptic Guide software to load the photo and automatically be guided in a step-by-step manner to where that photo was taken.  This provides a lot of value because you no longer need to type or talk in the location you want to go to, neither by address nor by latitude/longitude coordinates.  You just need a photo of the location and the software breaks down the current and target locations into turn by turn directions just like you would find on a commercial GPS navigator.  This is where belt comes into play; it eliminates the need to constantly watch the screen or listen for directions.  Now you can have the phone in the holder or your pocket and be walking down the street and subconsciously following the vibrations in the belt without any distraction whatsoever from the environment around you.  It is the perfect touring device.

>Do you have any future plans with your team? Continued N900 development? Update your current projects?

Going forward, we plan to develop other devices similar to the belt design so there is more than one option of a wearable device.  Such things might include a wristband or armband, a watch with lights to indicate the direction, hats, etc.  Also, we might look into the possibility of setting up an online geo-coded photo sharing service so you can plan a tour of locations you are visiting.  Take a picture of a landmark, post it on the service, and people in the area can find the photo and go to that location if they choose to.

>What do you think of the other winners?

The other winners of the competition have been great.  There is a very interesting mix of people across the teams, from geeks to artists.  Also, the teams have been great as far as sharing information.  For example, when [Tim] was getting started with the application development, Introcept from the Lighthack Crew was happy to share the details of his Bluetooth implementation which gave [Tim] what he needed to get the ball rolling.

>Questions from our commentators.

>What are your thoughts on Arduino? Do you intend to use one in your project?

There is no denying that the Arduino is a great learning and prototyping tool.  For our prototypes, we are using the Arduino Mini Pro.  We chose this because of the size constraints, outputs and processing power we might need.  In a production environment, we would use an appropriate chip and design the circuits directly.  But ultimately, this is just a prototype and the Arduino works great for it.

>How is working with the N900 hardware and software?

At first, working with the N900 was like diving into the deep end of a pool without knowing how to swim.  But this was largely because [Tim] had never worked with any of the N900/Linux development tools before.  Anyone familiar with C, C++, or Python coding in a Linux environment would likely have no problem at all with creating applications for it.  The development tools are very compatible.  In many cases, all it takes to get a desktop GTK application working on the phone at its absolute most basic, is to recompile the source code using the Scratchbox compiler and copy the files to the phone.

>What do you think about the movement of cell phones towards open source software, such as the Maemo? Do you plan to, or have you ever tried Android?

Open source software is almost always a step in the right direction.  The real value of the Maemo environment is that the open source tools allow you to simply copy a Python script, for example, from one platform to another and it will just work.  [Tim] has considered Android development for the future, but will likely stick to the N900 because of its open platform.

>(If you use a secondary power source, example – to run motors) What kind of battery life is expected for your project?

We are currently using a small 2000 mAh Lithium Polymer battery to power the haptic belt.  Because of the motor selection we chose to use, the belt gets pretty good battery life: around 12 hours of constant use.

>Can we get a list of what you’re using in your project? (example – bluetooth sets, motors, dedicated sensors, etc)

For our prototypes, we chose to use mostly standard modular parts, most of which can be purchased at  Each belt has the following major parts:
1 x  Arduino Pro Mini (3.3V)
1 x  BlueSmirf Gold Module
1 x  HMC6352 Compass Module
8 x  Vibration Motor
1 x  Polymer Lithium Ion Battery – 2000 mAh
A double layer leather belt
One Nokia N900 (optional.  Without it, the belt acts like a regular compass always pointing to magnetic north)
BlinkM I2C LEDs (optional)

>And yes, we actually had a reader (Joe) ask the following (feel free to omit)
>How often do you change your underwear?

Because there are so many possible amusing answers, we will decline to answer and see what the other teams say.

Thank you again!

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