Robot’s Actions and Our Reactions

If you walk into a dog owner’s home that dog is probably going to make a beeline to see if you are a threat. If you walk into a cat owner’s home, you may see the cat wandering around, if it even chooses to grace you with its presence. For some people, a dog’s direct approach can be nerve-wracking, or even scary depending on their history and relative size of the dog. Still, these domestic animals are easy to empathize with especially if you or your family have a pet. They have faces which can convey curiosity or smug indifference but what if you were asked to judge the intent of something with no analogs to our own physical features like a face or limbs? That is what researchers at the IDC Herzliya in Israel and Cornell University in the US asked when they made the Greeting Machine to move a moon-like sphere around a planet-like sphere.

Participants were asked to gauge their feelings about the robot after watching the robot move in different patterns. It turns out that something as simple as a sphere tracing across the surface of another sphere can stir consistent and predictable emotions in people even though the shapes do not resemble a human, domestic pet, or anything but a snowman’s abdomen. This makes us think about how our own robots must be perceived by people who are not mired in circuits all day. Certainly, a robot jellyfish lazing about in the Atlantic must feel less threatening than a laser pointer with a taste for human eyeballs.

 

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This Machine Teaches Sign Language

Sign language can like any language be difficult to learn if you’re not immersed in it, or at least learning from someone who is fluent. It’s not easy to know when you’re making minor mistakes or missing nuances. It’s a medium with its own unique issues when learning, so if you want to learn and don’t have access to someone who knows the language you might want to reach for the next best thing: a machine that can teach you.

This project comes from three of [Bruce Land]’s senior electrical and computer engineering students, [Alicia], [Raul], and [Kerry], as part of their final design class at Cornell University. Someone who wishes to learn the sign language alphabet slips on a glove outfitted with position sensors for each finger. A computer inside the device shows each letter’s proper sign on a screen, and then checks the sensors from the glove to ensure that the hand is in the proper position. Two letters include making a gesture as well, and the device is able to track this by use of a gyroscope and compass to ensure that the letter has been properly signed. It appears to only cover the alphabet and not a wider vocabulary, but as a proof of concept it is very effective.

The students show that it is entirely possible to learn the alphabet reliably using the machine as a teaching tool. This type of technology could be useful for other applications as well, such as gesture recognition for a human interface device. If you want to see more of these interesting and well-referenced senior design builds we’ve featured quite a few, from polygraph machines to a sonar system for a bicycle.

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Sonar in Your Hand

Sonar measures distance by emitting a sound and clocking how long it takes the sound to travel. This works in any medium capable of transmitting sound such as water, air, or in the case of FingerPing, flesh and bone. FingerPing is a project at Georgia Tech headed by [Cheng Zhang] which measures hand position by sending soundwaves through the thumb and measuring the time on four different receivers. These readings tell which bones the sound travels through and allow the device to figure out where the thumb is touching. Hand positions like this include American Sign Language one through ten.

From the perspective of discreetly one through ten on a mobile device, this opens up a lot of possibilities for computer input while remaining pretty unobtrusive. We see prototypes which are more capable of reading gestures but also draw attention if you wear them on a bus. It is a classic trade-off between convenience and function but this type of reading is unique and could combine with other bio signals for finer results.

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Playing Jedi Mind-Tricks On Your TV

Gesture-enabled controls mean you get to live out your fantasy of wielding force powers. It does, however, take a bit of hacking to make that possible. Directly from the team at [circuito.io] comes a hand gesture controller for Jedi mind-trick manipulation of your devices!

The star of the show here is the APDS-9960 RGB and gesture sensor, with an Arduino Pro Mini 328 doing the thinking and an IR transmitter LED putting that to good use. The Arduino Sketch is a chimera of two code examples for IR LEDs and the gesture sensor — courtesy of the always estimable Ken Shirriff, and SparkFun respectively.

Of course, you can have the output trigger different devices, but since this particular build is meant to control a TV the team had to use a separate Arduino and IR receiver to discover the codes for the commands they wanted  to use. Once they were added to the Sketch, moving your hand above the sensor in X, Y or Z-axes executes the command. Voila! — Jedi powers.

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Roll Up Your Sleeve, Watch a Video with This Smart Watch Forearm Projector

We’re all slowly getting used to the idea of wearable technology, fabulous flops like the creepy Google Glass notwithstanding. But the big problem with tiny tech is in finding the real estate for user interfaces. Sure, we can make it tiny, but human fingers aren’t getting any smaller, and eyeballs can only resolve so much fine detail.

So how do we make wearables more usable? According to Carnegie-Mellon researcher [Chris Harrison], one way is to turn the wearer into the display and the input device (PDF link). More specifically, his LumiWatch projects a touch-responsive display onto the forearm of the wearer. The video below is pretty slick with some obvious CGI “artist’s rendition” displays up front. But even the somewhat limited displays shown later in the video are pretty impressive. The watch can claim up to 40-cm² of the user’s forearm for display, even at the shallow projection angle offered by a watch bezel only slightly above the arm — quite a feat given the irregular surface of the skin. It accomplishes this with a “pico-projector” consisting of red, blue, and green lasers and a pair of MEMS mirrors. The projector can adjust the linearity and brightness of the display to provide a consistent image across the uneven surface. An array of 10 time-of-flight sensors takes care of watching the display area for touch input gestures. It’s a fascinating project with a lot of potential, but we wonder how the variability of the human body might confound the display. Not to mention the need for short sleeves year round.

Need some basics on the micro-electrical mechanic systems (MEMS) behind the pico-projector in this watch? We’ve got a great primer on these microscopic machines.

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Motion-Controlled KVM Switch

Once upon a time, [hardwarecoder] acquired a Gen8 HP microserver that he began to toy around with. It started with ‘trying out’ some visualization before spiraling off the rails and fully setting up FreeBSD with ZFS as a QEMU-KVM virtual machine. While wondering what to do next, he happened to be lamenting how he couldn’t also fit his laptop on his desk, so he built himself a slick, motion-sensing KVM switch to solve his space problem.

At its heart, this device injects DCC code via the I2C pins on his monitors’ VGA cables to swap inputs while a relay ‘replugs’ the keyboard and mouse from the server to the laptop — and vice-versa — at the same time. On the completely custom PCB are a pair of infrared diodes and a receiver that detects Jedi-like hand waves which activate the swap. It’s a little more complex than some methods, but arguably much cooler.

Using an adapter, the pcb plugs into his keyboard, and the monitor data connections and keyboard/mouse output to the laptop and server stream out from there. There is a slight potential issue with cables torquing on the PCB, but with it being so conveniently close, [hardwarecoder] doesn’t need to handle it much.

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Wireless Protocol Reverse Engineered to Create Wrist Wearable Mouse

We’ve seen a few near-future sci-fi films recently where computers respond not just to touchscreen gestures but also to broad commands, like swiping a phone to throw its display onto a large flat panel display. It’s a nice metaphor, and if we’re going to see something like it soon, perhaps this wrist-mounted pointing device will be one way to get there.

The video below shows the finished product in action, with the cursor controlled by arm movements. Finger gestures that are very much like handling a real mouse’s buttons are interpreted as clicks. The wearable has a Nano, an MPU6050 IMU, and a nRF24L01 transceiver, all powered by some coin cells and tucked nicely into a 3D-printed case. To be honest, as cool as [Ronan Gaillard]’s wrist mouse is, the real story here is the reverse engineering he and his classmate did to pull this one off.

The road to the finished product was very interesting and more detail is shared in their final presentation (in French and heavy with memes). Our French is sufficient only to decipher “Le dongle Logitech,” but there are enough packet diagrams supporting into get the gist. They sniffed the packets going between a wireless keyboard and its dongle and figured out how to imitate mouse movements using an NRF24 module. Translating wrist and finger movements to cursor position via the 6-axis IMU involved some fairly fancy math, but it all seems to have worked in the end, and it makes for a very impressive project.

Is sniffing wireless packets in your future? Perhaps this guide to Wireshark and the nRF24L01 will prove useful.

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