Twenty Projects That Just Won the Human Computer Interface Challenge

The greatest hardware competition on the planet is going on right now. The Hackaday Prize is the Oscars of Open Hardware. It’s the Nobel Prize of building a thing. It’s the Fields Medal of firmware development, and simply making it to the finals grants you a knighthood in the upper echelon of hardware developers.

Last week, we wrapped up the fourth challenge in The Hackaday Prize, the Human Computer Interface challenge. Now we’re happy to announce twenty of those projects have been selected to move onto the final round and have been awarded a $1000 cash prize. Congratulations to the winners of the Human Computer Interface Challenge in this year’s Hackaday Prize. Here are the winners, in no particular order:

Human Computer Interface Challenge Hackaday Prize Finalists:

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This Is Your Last Chance To Design The Greatest Human Computer Interface

This is your last chance to get your project together for the Human Computer Interface Challenge in this year’s Hackaday Prize. We’re looking for innovative interfaces for humans to talk to machines or machines to talk to humans. These are projects that make technology more intuitive, more fun, and a more natural activity. This is your time to shine, and we’re accepting entries in the Human Computer Interface Challenge in this year’s Hackaday Prize until August 27th. This is your last weekend to work on your project, folks.

This is one of the best years of the Hackaday Prize yet, with almost one thousand projects vying for the top prize of $50,000 USD. That doesn’t mean everyone else is going home empty handed; we’ve already awarded $1000 prizes to twenty projects in each of the first three challenges, and this coming Monday, we’ll be figuring out the winners to the Human Computer Interface challenge. Twenty of those finalists will be awarded $1000 USD, and move onto the final round where they’re up for the Grand Prize.

Don’t miss your last chance to get in on the Human Computer Interface Challenge in this year’s Hackaday Prize. We’re looking for an interface that could be visual, auditory, haptic, olfactory, or something never before imagined. We’re sure we’re going to see an Alexa duct taped to a drone, and that’s awesome. We’re taking all comers. Don’t wait — start your entry now.

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Human-Computer Interface Challenge: Change How We Interact with Computers, Win Prizes

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. It’s a quote from the Wizard of Oz but also an interesting way to look at our interactions with electronics. The most natural interactions free us from thinking about the ones and zeros behind them. Your next challenge is to build an innovative interface for humans to talk to machines and machines to talk to humans. This is the Human-Computer Interface Challenge!

The Next Gen of HCI

A Human-Computer Interface (or HCI) is what we use to control computers and what they use to control us get information to us. HCIs have been evolving since the beginning. The most recent breakthroughs include touchscreens and natural-language voice interaction. But HCI goes beyond the obvious. The Nest thermostat used a novel approach to learning your habits by observing times and days that people are near it, and when the temperature setting is changed. This sort of behavior feels more like the future than having to program specific times for temperature control adjustments. But of course we need to go much further.

You don’t need to start from scratch. There are all kinds of great technologies out there offering APIs that let you harness voice commands, recognize gestures, and build on existing data sets. There are chips that make touch sensing a breeze, and open source software suites that let you get up and running with computer vision. The important thing is the idea: find something that should feel more intuitive, more fun, and more natural.

The Best Interfaces Have Yet to Be Dreamed Up

No HCI is too simple; a subtle cue that makes sure you don’t miss garbage collection day can make your day. Of course no idea is too complex; who among you will work on a well-spoken personal assistant that puts Jarvis to shame? We just saw that computers sound just like people if you only tell them to make random pauses while speaking. There’s a ton of low-hanging fruit in this field waiting to be discovered.

An HCI can be in an unexpected place, or leverage interactions not yet widely used like olfactory or galvanic responses.  A good example of this is the Medium Machine which is pictured above. It stimulates the muscles in your forearm, causing your finger to press the button. The application is up to you, and we really like it that Peter mentions that Medium Machine reaches for something that wouldn’t normally come to mind when you think about these interfaces; something that hasn’t been dreamed up yet. Get creative, get silly, have some fun, and show us how technology can be a copilot and not a dimwitted sidekick.

You have until August 27th to put your entry up on Hackaday.io. The top twenty entries will each get $1,000 and go on to the finals where cash prizes of $50,000, $20,000, $15,000, $10,000, and $5,000 await.

3D Printering: Laser Cutting 3D Objects

3D printing can create just about any shape imaginable, but ask anyone who has babysat a printer for several hours, and they’ll tell you 3D printing’s biggest problem: it takes forever to produce a print. The HCI lab at Potsdam University has some up with a solution to this problem using the second most common tool found in a hackerspace. They’re using a laser cutter to speed up part production by a factor of twenty or more.

Instead of printing a 3D file directly, this system, Platener, breaks a model down into its component parts. These parts can then be laser cut out of acrylic or plywood, assembled, and iterated on much more quickly.

You might think laser-cut parts would only be good for flat surfaces, but with techniques like kerf bending, and stacking layer upon layer of material on top of each other, just about anything that can be produced with a 3D printer is also possible with Platener.

To test their theory that Platener is faster than 3D printing, the team behind Platener downloaded over two thousand objects from Thingiverse. The print time for these objects can be easily calculated for both traditional 3D printing and the Platener system, and it turns out Platener is more than 20 times faster than printing more than thirty percent of the time.

You can check out the team’s video presentation below, with links to a PDF and slides on the project’s site.

Thanks [Olivier] for the tip.

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Tablet interacts with magnets, how does that work?

Making computers interact with physical objects is a favorite of the HCI gurus out there, but these builds usually take the form of image recognition of barcodes or colors. Of course there are new near field communication builds coming down the pipe, but [Andrea Bianchi] has figured out an easier way to provide a physical bridge between computer and user. He’s using magnets to interact with a tablet, and his idea opens up a lot of ideas for future tangible interfaces.

Many tablets currently on the market have a very high-resolution, low latency magnetometer meant for geomagnetic field detection. Yes, it’s basically a compass but Android allows for the detection of magnets, and conveniently provides the orientation and magnitude of magnets around a tablet.

[Andrea] came up with a few different interfaces using magnets. The first is just a magnets of varying strengths embedded into some polymer clay. When these colorful magnetic cubes are placed on the tablet, [Andrea]’s app is able to differentiate between small, medium, and large magnets.

There are a few more things [Andrea]’s app can do; by placing two magnets on an ‘arrow’ token, the app can detect the direction in which the arrow is pointing. It’s a very cool project that borders on genius with its simplicity.

You can check out [Andrea]’s demo video after the break.

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Acoustic barcodes deliver data with a fingernail and microphone

Either through QR codes, RFID, or near field communication, there seems to be some desire to share tiny pieces of data in a more physical and accessible form. [Chris Harrison], [Robert Xiao], and [Scott E. Hudson] of the HCI Institute at Carnegie Mellon have come up with a fairly interesting solution of making data more physical. They call it Acoustic Barcodes, and it’s able to store over a billion unique IDs in a small strip of plastic.

By engraving a barcode pattern into a piece of wood, stone, glass, or plastic, the guys then attached a microphone to the barcode and ran their fingernails across their invention. A computer interprets the sounds of a finger scraping against the acoustic barcode and produces a series of 1s and 0s.

This binary code can be used to look up various items in a database, or perform actions on a computer. In the video after the break, you can see these acoustic barcodes attached to a whiteboard to provide real tactile control of a video projector.

You can check out a PDF of the Acoustic Barcode paper here.

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Tracking eye movement by measuring electrons in the eye

[Luis Cruz] is a Honduran High School student, and he built an amazing electrooculography system, and the writeup (PDF warning) of the project is one of the best we’ve seen.

[Luis] goes through the theory of the electrooculogram – the human eye is polarized from front to back because of a negative charge in the nerve endings in the retina. Because of this minute difference in charge, a user’s gaze can be tracked by electrodes attached to the skin around the eye. After connecting eye electrodes to opamps and a microcontroller, [Luis] imported the data with a Python script and wrote an “eyeboard” application to enable text input using only eye movement. The original goal of the project was to build an interface for severely disabled people, but [Luis] sees applications for sleep research and gathering marketing data.

We covered [Luis]’ homebrew 8-bit console last year, and he’s now controlling his Pong clone with his eye-tracking device. We’re reminded of a similar system developed by Atari, but [Luis]’ system uses a method that won’t give the user a headache after 15 minutes.

Check out [Luis] going through the capabilities of his interface after the break. Continue reading “Tracking eye movement by measuring electrons in the eye”