Saturday, August 30, 2008

Invent Your Own Gadget

The folks over at Bug Labs just sponsored a contest at and after the latest Gnomedex. The question was: what gadget would you make with the BUG platform, a hardware platform of interchangeable modules?

I haven't read a lot about the BUG platform, but I like the idea. Simple, interchangeable modules with (I hope) simple protocols that allow you to quickly prototype a wide variety of hardware gadgets. The current modules provide GPS, motion sensor, accelerometer, camera, and display capabilities. More are on the way (and, in the contest, they said you could postulate future modules).

I posted three gadget ideas -- one that was pretty silly and two that I actually like. If I win the contest, I think I might try to build the last one. Here they are:

Ultimate Remote Control
Where is that remote control anyway? With the Ultimate Remote Control, you don't have to worry about it -- just wave at your TV. The Motion sensor detects when you're waving and activates the remote control. From there, simple hand signals read and recognized through the camera control the TV. Raise or lower your flat hand to change the volume. Hold out your palm to mute. Move your fist to the right or left to change channels or fast forward and rewind on your DVD. Form numbers with both hands to enter a channel code, or use sign language letters to pick a channel by name. Status and confirmations are shown on the LCD. Because there's no physical remote control, everybody in the room can use it any time.
Why I Want It: We have lots of remote controls and they always seem to be lost. If they're not lost, they get fought over.

Help Me Drive
Help Me Drive uses the new radio module to tune in to broadcasted traffic information and combines that with GPS information to alert me of traffic conditions that I care about -- and only those -- via the new text-to-speech module. I don't need to know about an accident 30 miles away unless I'm heading in that direction. Help Me Drive uses a combination of GPS tracking and recording of prior routes to predict which possible traffic issues are a concern. For example, if I'm on 520 heading West between Redmond and 405 and a significant percentage of the time that I'm on that road, I continue past 405 into downtown Seattle, then traffic between me and downtown Seattle is highly relevant. As a bonus, Help Me Drive downloads construction information via WiFi whenever I'm near a preferred or public WiFi network. Plus, by recording traffic information over time, and correlating those with my driving patterns (it knows my speed at every point on my route), it can provide a better predictor of how bad traffic will get on my regular routes. I can also specify traffic that I'm always interested in or that I'm always interested in when I leave a particular destination, like work or home, and I can specify that I'm always interested in traffic between my current location and home or work, depending on the time of day.
Why I Want It: I hate getting stuck in traffic when I could have taken a different route that wasn't congested.

Slow Window
There's a famous science fiction story by Bob Shaw, The Light of Other Days, that introduces the concept of Slow Glass -- glass through which light moves very slowly, possibly taking decades to go from one side to the other. It's an awesome story and highly recommended. My slow window wouldn't be quite so slow, but the camera constantly records and plays back on the screen at a specified delay -- possibly 15 seconds, possibly an hour. 24 hours happens to be a really interesting delay. See what happened yesterday. An optional accelerometer can cause the time dilation to change on-the-fly as you move it around, a pretty cool effect giving you that "special relativity" feel. And, an optional motion sensor can make the slow window delay variable -- it's always showing interesting stuff, looping as necessary.
Why I Want It: Concepts from SF have come to life in so many ways already. I've always wanted slow glass.


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