Thursday, March 20

Half baked ideas


Just read about apple's research on autostereoscopic displays, which lets us see a 3D image, without needing to squint :) I have been thinking about a pet idea for a long time, which is half baked, and will probably remain so.. Hence I though it might be good idea to spell it out here, so that interested people can work on it/ evaluate it. (and if blog post has any legal validity as a prior art, at least people can't patent it :) I have heard enough brickbats about it from friends, but still it charms me to envision its implementation. Here it goes :(
1. Head tracking pointing: Human computer interface has been trying to replace mouse with gaze for a long time. Usual problems associated with such are distraction and confusion, as cursor follows gaze, and gaze follows moving cursor, which follows gaze and so on. Even gaze tracking is not that accurate yet/ cheap enough to be practical. My solution is head tracking. Head is easier to track approximately, as features/ silhouttes are fairly good indicators. If we put cursor approximately in front of our head. (straightline coming out of our forehead, intersecting the screen), instead of our gaze, the problem is solved much easily and elegantly. All we need to make sure, is with head held steady, the cursor stays steady to a high enough accuracy. It need not be exactly in front. As long as one can keep it steady, and move it about at his will, we are good. The eyes, will track the cursor and move head till it points to the desired location. Thus responsibility of visual-motor feedback is delegated to user, who is much better at it, as he knows where he is going. Distraction is minimal, and computation cost is low enough. If this works, then I can use my Iphone embedded with 2 cameras in two top corners, to track my head, and use very small head movements to focus cursor to the tiny keypad, and type faster than using thumb with little practice. We can also have deliberate head gestures, for common tasks. (wink to click. tilt to left to zoom in, right to zoom out, and so on). All user needs to do for calibration is to snap his own picture, while he is looking at 4 screen corners one by one. When you are gazing out of screen, nothing is affected. Imagine a big art project: A display screen, with cameras mounted in corners, which puts big red globs on yellow background, where visitors' heads are looking. Anyways, enough rant. I would love to see it happen!
2. Keyboard pointing with mouse: So many times, at night, you are typing on laptop, but you cant see the keys due to darkness. You tilt the screen down to give some light, and tilt it back to see what you have typed. Its a bit of a mess. Instead how about, having a backlit keyboard. Each key has a light in it. You can move you mouse to scroll through different keys lit one by one, as if keyboard was an extended screen. When you mouse hits the display bottom, it enters the pseudo-screen of keyboard. Convenient and more importantly, elegant.
3. Breath monitor: You know how your breath is related to your moods. Angry, afraid, stressed lead to shallow breaths. Deep breaths relax the mind. We all know this, but most of the time, we are simply unaware of this pattern. How about a gadget which can monitor your stress level/ breathing pattern and make you aware of it. Breath can be monitored electronically in many ways. In case, bulky instrumentation is acceptable like in a ventilator in a hospital, flow/pressure sensors can be put inside nostrils/ ventilator to detect condition of patient. Are lungs working properly, is there clogging of airway due to sinus, nature of cough, is he agitated/nervous/conscious/sleeping. Or even otherwise, we can have a simple tshirt with accelerometers/fabric strech monitors embedded in front and back, to measure chest expansion. If embedded with small Galvanic Skin Response device, it can even more accurately assess stress levels. A lot of research in pattern analysis is still needed. But such bio feedback devices can be very useful.
4. Smart sweater: 40% of energy used in USA (excluding that for transportation) is used in HVAC, or Heating, Ventilation and Airconditioning. And the most easy and zen way to keep warm without burning fuel is to wear a sweater/jacket. But these are very dumb. They are bulky, we need to take them off and on, as surroundings vary. We cant use them while exercising, as body heat is building up, and so on. One solution is smart sweater, which is very light, and made from fabric which is good conductor of heat. It will have just two layers of cloth, stitched in places with elastic stiches to keep them close, and with air pumped in between. Air pressure dictates the thickness, hence the insulation. A smart miniature two way valve on the wrist, will keep in memory the preferred body temperature, and will measure surrounding and body temperature. Thus when body needs to cool down, it will release the air. When it wants absolutely no insulation, it will prompt you by vibration to press you wrist and vacuum seal the two layers, pumping out all the air. When it needs insulation, it will open the incoming valve and ask you to pump the air in, by pressing your wrist. Thus it will let you manage your own insulation intelligently, and in an elegant manner. And save your electricity bills.

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