Tag Archives: motion

Dubious advisor | Typebot

Dubious Advisor is an early prototype for a typing robot. It is voice-activated and responds to speech and questions by offering dubious advice. Similar to gag gifts such as a Magic 8 ball, it is especially handy for the indecisive, but downsides may include sarcasm and inaccuracy.

Interface and Context

I felt that a voice sensor would make the typebot most ‘human’. As I didn’t have a voice sensor at hand, I accessed the in-built microphone using Max to send data to the arduino. Max would sense if there was a sustained noise (i.e. someone talking or asking the typebot a question). If a sustained silence followed (user is done asking the question), Max would generate a random value to the Arduino and trigger one of the pre-programmed answers. This wouldn’t work as a fully functioning device in different environments but was suitable for the prototype stage!

This typebot has 5 different responses to yes-no type questions. It isn’t actually responding to specific questions but we users suspend our disbelief and buy in to the context.



Parts made using lasercut and MDF!

Panning motor secured to wooden blocks which were then secured to the base. Shaved of part of the cube for wiring. The base was added so the typebot wouldn’t fall back on itself because of the momentum. The laptop is placed on top of the base, so it’s weight would make the structure stable.

The design functioned well  until I started programming the individual alphabets. Although reinforced at 4 points, the disk and panning motor were not firm enough to support the torque from the motor sitting above it. When the ‘finger’ hit the keys, instead of depressing it and typing the letter, the typebot tilted backwards.

To combat this, I removed the disk and attached the ‘elbow’ motor directly onto the panning motor. This made the arm more solid and keys could be triggered. An unforeseen issue that would only have been discovered through execution!

Using the bottom Z-M row as perpendicular to the robotic arm, I calculated the positions for all alphabets and space and enter. Although I started by estimating all the 3 angle inputs for each letter, I soon found out that was impractical for this design. Instead, I estimated the ‘coordinates’ using the extreme values and midpoint of each row. I expected the angle increments between each key to be linear however that also wasn’t the case! I could then calibrated the values from these estimates.

Suspend your Disbelief | Documentation | Analog Midterm

Some Thoughts on Process

What started as a working title became surprisingly apt when I had doubts about whether this project could be materialised. It reminded me of an article in the local newspaper a few weeks back about Christo and his 2 decade long project in Colorado. Interestingly, he mentioned in the interview how getting permits and approval was an integral element of the spirit of the project.

Variations between Planning and Execution

Initially, I intended the swing and larger hammock to be closer together. However, the larger hammock had to be placed further to the right, down the stairs so as to not obstruct the fire sprinklers.

Example of fire sprinkler underneath the staircase
Making a Prototype

Before getting loads of rope and fabric, I made a prototype using scrap materials such as wires, shoelaces and some spare cloth.

I tied this makeshift hammock onto my bed post and experimented with the placement of ropes (3 points vs. a single pivot) and the motion it created using each method.

Trying out these prototypes was very useful as it allowed me to gauge the strength of cloth needed and shorten the width of the hammocks based on the wood flexibility and strain. Instead of winding the fabric around the pole, I opted for sewing as it would be more secure and able to bare more weight.

Creating the Components
Choices at Chinatown! Too many!

As the forms in the installation become increasingly open from right to left, I choose 3 different earth tones to emphasise this gradation and complement the space underneath the stairs. The darkest fabric corresponds to the shallow hammock which is wedged by the stairs and forms an enclosed private space.

First, I cut the fabric to width. I initially intended the hammocks to be at least 1 metre in width. But due to the flexibility of the wood, this had to be reduced quite a bit.

Hemming the raw edge
Repeat with the other pieces of fabric

Drawing guide lines for sewing
Sewing strips of reinforcements
Trusty zig-zag stitch

For extra security, to bare heavy weight, and to prevent unravelling in case of wear and tear, I sewed several lines over a large area and ‘locked’ the sides.

Problems and Revisions
Trial installation on Sunday

During the initial setup on Sunday, 1 of the sticks broke in the middle after some use. Oh the horror! Each hammock/swing had 2 points of support on each side (4 points in total to share the load). To prevent excessive flexing and bending, I revised the design by adding an additional point of support at the centre of the wooden pole.

Revised design

I cut out a gap enough for the rope to go through and coil around the pole and reinforced the stitching with… more stitching!

Video Documentation

ume | documentation

Prototype documentation for our semester project, ume.

ume are interactive paired devices meant to subtly connect friends, lovers and family in different locations. It was made using Arduinos, LED bulbs, PIR sensors and ultrasonic distance sensors.

Each ume serves as an avatar of the other user. The ume in location A will correspond to the user in location B and vice versa. It aims to subtly capture the presence of each user and provide company and comfort without bombarding the user with too much information. In our era of social media and instant communication, ume aims to take a step back in our how we experience one another’s presence and filter out the buzz.

The ume emulates a flame. When users are closer to the sensor, the flame will burn stronger. When further away, the flame will flicker more and become dimmer. The umes will turn into a warm flame and start rocking gently when it detects motion in the room (e.g. if the user paces around or types on their keyboard). Conversely, when no motion is detected (e.g. user falls asleep or has left) the ume will turn into a cool blue flame and stay still. This alludes to the partner user what their partner is doing at the moment.



Changes since the last update

  • We attempted to use multilooping and protothreads to execute both the distance sensing and rocking motion at the same time as the latter was slowing down each loop. However, each thread was still waiting for the other and the time saved was marginal. So instead we programmed the distance sensor to take a reading at smaller increments of the motor motion.
  • We placed the bread board, motor and arduinos into each hamster ball and used long wires to simulate 2 different locations. We added 2 small plates at the side of the PIR sensor to limit its range when detecting motion. In terms of aesthetics, we had to cover up the arduinos, wires etc in the hamster ball as they were rather distracting. So we decided to wrap the ume up in lace to make it more intimate and homely as the ume is meant to be used in a private or home setting. This also helped to disperse the light and create a softer effect. However, this added friction to the base and reduced the rocking motion.
  • We also added a fade in and fade out effect between the 2 states. This allowed the lights to transition more naturally and we think it helped describe a person’s presence more organically.

General feedback from users

  • Users often expected that the sensors would affect the ume on the same side. They were also unsure whether they could hold them or move them around.
  • Users also remarked that they were cute and liked the spherical lace body.

Possible improvements

  • The ume could reflect more gestures and states of the users other than motion and proximity to enrich the telepresence experience. The challenge is balancing between creating a good organic communication, without sending over too much explicit information and complicating the interaction.
  • Instead of wrapping the hamster balls in lace, for a 2.0 version we would want to either do a decal or spray on a porous lace pattern which would allow light to pass through yet cover up the technical bits.
  • Another improvement would be to make it wireless so the interaction would be more tactile and physical. Users could hold onto the ume should they wish to or leave it aside to rock gently.20161118_152301

Part 1 of documentation (interaction / concept):

Part 2 of documentation (technical):

A project by Tania and Yi Xian.