As I mentioned in one blog, I'm getting my master's degree from Georgia Tech. This semester is really getting crazy. When I finally had time to sit down and write a blog entry, of course the only thing that I can think of is school. That's why this week I'm going to highlight five interesting projects that I've seen since I got here in the fall. This is not to say that these are the five "best" projects here, but they are five that I have seen and been impressed by. As far as I know, these are all still in the research phase, but hopefully they'll all be released to the general public before too long!
1) BrailleTouch: In the last few weeks this app has really started to take the internet and news sites by storm. CNN and several other news outlets and tech sites have all reported on it. The idea is that blind or visually impaired users would be able to type in Braille on their phone without having to buy an extremely costly external device like they need to now. Sighted users could also use this to type without looking at the screen if they were willing to learn Braille. Early research indicates users proficient in Braille can type at around 32 words per minute with 92% accuracy, making this a very viable option for text input. When the research is done and the app is ready, it will be available for free on the iPhone and Android.
2) Argon: Argon is an augmented reality web browser, but what does that mean? Augmented reality is when sound, images, or other computer generated data is integrated into a live view of your real world. With Argon, anyone with the programming skills to make a website can develop their own Argon-enabled site to be used by everyone with this browser rather than having to spend countless hours learning about augmented reality from the ground up. In the video, Dr. MacIntyre gives the example of a grocery store being able to indicate what specials are going on so that the shopper can just hold up their phone and see exactly where the deals are around the store. I saw another example where a virtual character leads you on a historical tour of a cemetery through your mobile phone, and another that showed the architect's design of a finished building in place of a construction site that was in front of you in the real world. This all seems very sci-fi and futuristic, but Argon is actually available for iPhone and iPad now (although it's probably more effective to use it in the Atlanta area). All that's left is for people to develop for it.
3) PR2 Robot: Willow Garage's PR2 robot is currently being studied in Georgia Tech's Aware Home (an actual house on campus fitted with all kinds of gadgets and sensors used for research). The current area being focused on is how to let older-adults live full and independent lives at home for as long as possible. The PR2 can navigate the house without running into walls or objects in its path, perform simple tasks like turning lights on and off, retrieve objects like the remote, and deliver medicine to the right user at the right time, wherever they are. As time advances, the robot will be able to learn more tasks to help the person living in the home, like cooking and cleaning. I think I've heard that the same model robot at another institution has been able to shave someone's face, but I'm not sure that I'd like to be the first one to try that.
4) Mobile Music Touch: This device is a wireless glove with vibrating motors in each finger that can be connected with an mp3 player or phone to "teach" users how to play music on the piano. Each finger that is used to play each note vibrates in order, so that after about thirty minutes of wearing the glove while performing other tasks, the vibrations are turned into muscle memory. This seems great for short pieces like the first fifteen notes of "Ode to Joy," but the REALLY interesting part is that they have begun doing research about how this benefits people who have lost most use of their hands due to spinal cord injuries. It is very possible that this glove, originally intended for passively teaching music, will turn into a viable rehabilitation device.
5) Hydrosense: Technically this project was originally designed by researchers at the University of Washington (one of whom is a Georgia Tech graduate), but it is important to researchers here as well. The basic idea of Hydrosense is that a single pressure sensor can be placed on the water-line coming into the house to monitor water use and even determine which water source is being used, such as the dishwasher, the upstairs toilet, or the kitchen sink, based on its unique fingerprint. This could help people learn where they're wasting water, but it could also be used to detect when something is wrong. For instance, if someone seems to be using the bathroom a lot more often than usual or at different times (such as in the middle of the night) it might be an indication of a urinary tract infection or some similar ailment. This unobtrusive sensor has serious medical, economical, and environmental implications that are definitely worth exploring.
As I said earlier, none of these are quite ready for widespread use, but they all suggest some technology that could be found in or around the home in the next ten years or so. I'm very excited to be here around all of this interesting research, and I hope some others find these projects as cool as I do.