‘Human Uber’ Lets a Surrogate Socialize For You

Has the process of interacting with other human beings become too much for you, but you don’t have the heart to ditch your social obligations completely? Then you’ll be very interested in what virtual reality researcher Jun Rekimoto showed off at MIT Tech Review’s EmTech conference in Asia this week.

Called the “ChameleonMask,” this apparatus allows you to be a member of the outside world in spirit, all from the comfort of the couch you decided was more important than society. Basically, this telepresence helmet allows for a FaceTime-like experience that is piloted by a surrogate body. This surrogate shows up to whatever function you wish to skip, wearing headgear with a screen strapped to the front that livestreams a remote user so they can interact with the world around them.

There is a public line of communication in the helmet that allows the remote user to speak to the room through a voice channel, and a private one, where only the surrogate can hear the user (the surrogate can still be heard by everyone physically around them, so the team behind the device suggests they speak at a lower volume). There are also written commands the user can send to the surrogate that will pop up on the screen from which the surrogate views the world.

When conducting experiments with the device in 2015, an iPhone 6 was placed in a Hacosco VR helmet so the surrogate could use the smartphone’s camera function to see the real world around them. The main screen featuring the remote user's face is attached to the front of the helmet with the iPhone behind it, placed in such a way that the camera isn’t obstructed. There is also a feed of the remote user that the surrogate can see in the corner of their screen, as seen in this video.

According to the team’s study, the choice to use a surrogate human body instead of just an autonomous robot with a screen attached was because “Humans inherently have crisis-control capacities and five highly developed senses. If the remote user can find a surrogate who looks like him or her, the impression of his or her appearance can be maintained.” Basically, the more your surrogate looks like you, the more seamless the illusion of it actually being you will become.

Jun Rekimoto—the deputy director of Sony Computer Science Laboratories, Inc.—says the whole process feels “surprisingly natural,” and his team conducted studies to see just how comfortable people would be around these surrogates. The results were much more positive than anyone had imagined.

While they believed the participants would “look at it in disbelief, and immediately request the surrogate to remove it,” they found that people “seemed to believe that the remote user was in front of them” and that they were having a conversation with the person on the screen, not the body standing in for them.

There’s no commercial model of the ChameleonMask available yet, so for now you’ll have to brave your niece’s dance recital in the flesh. But in the not too distant future, a lucky surrogate can become the social butterfly you were never meant to be.

[h/t Select/All]

Watch an AI-Powered Robot Take the Fun Out of 'Where's Waldo'

YouTube
YouTube

"There's Waldo" is the name of an AI-powered robot that has been trained to swiftly suck all the fun out of the beloved children's books. As Popular Mechanics reports, the robot can pick Waldo's pom-pom beanie and striped shirt out of a crowd in just 4.45 seconds, "which is better than most 5-year-olds," according to the robot's maker.

Built by creative agency Redpepper, the robot is linked to Google's AutoML Vision service, which was fed 107 photos of Waldo from Google Images.

"I thought that wouldn't be enough data to build a strong model, but it gives surprisingly good predictions on Waldos that weren't in the original training set," Matt Reed, creative technologist at Redpepper, tells The Verge.

The robot's mechanical arm is equipped with a Vision Camera Kit, which lets it snap photos of the page and send them to AutoML Vision to be analyzed. Disconcertingly, the otherwise industrial-looking robot has a rubber hand that it uses to point to Waldo when it's at least 95 percent sure that the man on the page is, indeed, Waldo. Alas, once the machines take over, "Where's Waldo?" will just be one more phrase that future generations won't understand.

[h/t Popular Mechanics]

How to Rig Your Android Phone to Play Old Floppy Disk Games

iStock
iStock

Owning a smartphone means you have thousands of games at your fingertips, but capturing the nostalgia of playing a game saved on a floppy disk isn't as simple as downloading an app. Reviving floppy disk games for the smartphone era is a bit more complicated, and YouTube vintage video game reviewer LGR shows you just how to do it step by step.

In this video, spotted by Kotaku, LGR takes an old floppy disk, the same kind you used in your computer class at school, and uses it to play a classic video game on a smartphone. This is made possible with an Android phone, a USB connector, an Android USB adaptor, and a portable floppy disk drive that's about as big as the phone itself. (The hardware doesn't work for iPhones, but if you're an Apple user there are plenty of ways to play old PC games online).

Just inserting the disk into the drive when it's connected to your phone isn't enough to start playing: You need to download a special app that mimics Microsoft's old disk operating system, like Magic Dosbox, for example. Once you have that on your phone, you can use it to open whatever game is saved to your floppy disk.

Because old PC games weren't made for touchscreens, the smartphone gameplay can be a little be a little awkward—but if you're willing to hook a floppy disk drive up to your phone, convenience likely isn't your goal. You can watch LGR's full instructions in the video below.

[h/t Kotaku]

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