Parrot AR Drone pays a visit – in the name of research

@andypiper has just come back from a long work trip, on his way back at one of the lay overs he invested in a Parrot AR quadricopter (@ardrone). I was most honoured that he offered to bring it around Feeding Edge HQ so I could have a look and a play with it. This would be cool at any time but was very timely as I needed to get the feel of it as it is likely to be an item on the Cool Stuff Collective.
Andy shot, edited up and posted this video last night of the AR Drone zooming around the garden. What is amazing is that it really was very windy. (He has left out the minor crashes we both managed to make in to the swing, the apple tree and the bush at the back 🙂
It does a load of things that are really very clever. The front and down facing cameras are very neat, in particular as it is self stabilises giving you time to look at the video stream on your iphone (which is also the controller for the copter). The ultrasound sensors on the under tray help keep the copter stations over the ground at the height you set. As out garden has an odd slope in it it was cool to fly the drone at the tier and see it lift itself up as it flys the contour!

Andy was very brave in getting pretty close to the Drone at the end of this film. Whilst it copes with the odd gust of wind it can still slew a little outside, but I think the against the sky shot he got is awesome.
I think we should have no problems zooming this around a nice still TV studio.
Other cool things that I did not realise about the drone is that it generates its own ad hoc wireless network, has an embedded linux on board and you can telnet to it ! It can also seek an AR tag to land on and detect other Parrot AR drones.
You can screenshot the iphone app interface, and soon be able to stream the video.
Parrot AR Drone
It is very very cool indeed. Thanks Andy !

Iphone as a boardgame playing piece?

I had an unusual thought that I tweeted today asking if anyone had used an iphone as a boardgame playing piece. This was in part due to the shuffling of iphones that happens when a number of people are in the same place and all have the same device.
We all have different lockup pictures and things to identify our iphone, almost avatar like. So I wondered if anyone had built a board game where the pieces were common digital devices like the iphone. Note this is not a board game on an iphone, but a boardgame with an iphone.
It struck me that this was a combination of AR, augmenting the board game experience. Ultra local location based services (i.e. not about the map of the country but the map of a small playing board on your dining room table).
This is just a messing around mockup for the sort of thing the piece might be in Monopoly.
iPhone as example board game piece
The phone is also very card shaped and tactile and slideable around on a board, but with processing and graphic power to be able to keep a visual tally, or just show some status of the game as it goes along.
It also feel a bit like the Sega Dreamcast console that has a separate player visual memory unit VMU, a personal screen to indicate game information only to the player.
I have not had a good look around yet but I am sure there are flavours of this sort of thing. I think I may also have another twist and use for the idea for a project at the moment.
This may be overkill for certain games but as these handhelds are becoming social gaming hubs it may be we can use the physical aspects of their existence not just the network connectivity. Everywhere is local, including local !

Things I have tried since Develop – Danger, Toys and Zombies

As everyone always says “I don’t have time for x,y,z”. However when it comes to games, virtual worlds, emerging trends and technology I find I have to interact with things and try them out in order to put them in context. Some of the things were just sitting there in some queue, hijacked by other pieces of work. The Develop conference inspired me to go and look at a few things.

1. Bejeweled Blitz on iphone (and other platforms). I find PopCap games brilliantly done, very addictive, but I don’t really want to play them that much. They tend to have the overwhelming feeling they will never end, like a Terminator they will just keep coming. My wife loves them though, and she is rather good at them. Going to the PopCap presentation about Blitz I thought I best have a go on my iphone before the competition to win an iPad. How cool is that, play Bejeweled Blitz for 1 minute (as thats the time limit on the game) highest score wins an iPad. I didn’t win as I am not up to speed on the thing. What blitz does though it make me want to play a bit more. First its only 1 minute at a time, second it publishes the top scores each week amongst your friend on Facebook. So it has some of that asynchronous social gaming in a casual form. So I find myself drawn to it and feel that competition, even though I know I am not up to speed yet i have a target.

1b. Plants Vs Zombies. I put this as related to Blitz as it is a PopCap game. It is another that I had avoided but thought I should give a try after hearing PopCap’s back story. It is a resource management meets space invaders game somewhat like the castle defence genre. It manages to be very addictive and engaging (though has no social component yet). I liked it though, placing plant weapons on a lawn to stop an advancing army of cartoon zombies is suitably mad that it was worth a bit of time playing 🙂

2. Kahoots on PS3 Minis. This is a puzzle platformer out of the Lemmings mould. Also though it is on the PS3 but one of the games that you can drop onto your PSP. So I did. I found myself again compelled to figure out the levels. You know the solution is in there somewhere but with its almost Portal style screen wrap around sometimes the solution is to fall off, which is great.

3. Joe Danger on PS3. Hello Games first foray, a brilliant look to a cartoon style side on bike game. Fluid controls, lots of stunts and combos. It turns out the predlets love it too. It gets a bit tricky but the head to head racing really got them going. Again solving the puzzles, a lot of repeat play make this one cracker of a game. I had seen about it but avoided the PS3 as I was busy on the Xbox. However both Kahoots and Joe Danger sparked my interest in PS3 again.

4. PS3 Home. I had not been in Home for a while again, as I thought there was nothing new to check out. Having talked with a Home developer at one lunchtime session I thought I should go back and check it out. Most of my gamer contacts being on XBL some of the shared spaces I have are not that interesting solo. However I sparked it up, patched it etc and found myself getting the Toy Story 3 “Andy’s Room”. Again this was to see what the predlets thought as much as my interest in how this form of interactive advertising was going to work.
It was somewhat magical to be wandering around, with the added out of context avatar of the predator.
Toy story 3 PS3 Home space

Yes these activities ate into some time, but only a few hours spread over a few days and shared with the family. Seeing how these things engage us socially, become part of our lives is as intriguing as the joy of the various games.

What is not in doubt is the connected nature of these experiences. They are not dumbed down nor less entertaining than a full on AAA hardcore gaming experience. They fit into small slices of time in lifestyles but enhance human bonds.

Wimbledon Time again – Google subtlety

Yes it thats time of year again, the Wimbledon Tennis Championships is about to kick off and as I have written before (was it really a year since I wrote this!) for me and anyone who has had the pleasure and stress of working the event its a special time. I think the allegiance to it as an institution and to the team of people never goes away. In our life equivalent of gamer achievements we probably have some very unusual badges to share.
All this means I am still interested in how people attach themselves to a significant event, there are a lot people jokying for digital rights and “official” sponsorship. However some of it is just publicly owned association to the event, i.e. support.
I was looking at google street view the other day and noticed a change I had not seen before. The little drag and drop man around Wimbledon has changed to a tennis player. Even more cute/clever when you drag him around he changes into a tennis server gesture.

So well done Google. I wonder if this is some sort of rabbit hole for a Google/Wimbledon Alternate Reality Game? 🙂
Anyway good luck to all my friends at Wimbledon from the old firm and associated groups. You do a cracking job.
The official site is here remember there is no t in the word Wimbledon my US friends 🙂

Interesting control mechanisms: Cars, Rockets and Choppers

Props to @infiniteunity3d for tweeting this. This is an example of using a different control mechanism to enhance a virtual experience. In this case it is slot car racing. It is built in Unity3d which once again shows the power to just be able to get on and try out the ideas rather than battle the middleware. (I am sure it had it moments though 🙂 )
Slot car racing is a very tactile experience, the friction of the pickup on the rheostat and the precision of trying to get just the right speed for a corner is the charm of slot racing. Scalextric was a big part of my childhood.

AlabSoftware have hooked the controller up to a set of slot racing cars. They did not just stick to a top down view either it is a full 3d model (as that is what Unity3d is very good at indeed).
Nearly the first thing I built in Second Life was a slot car racing system. I say nearly because other things like the tennis got in the way. My initial thoughts were to build a construction set in a world that was by its very nature a construction set. Being able to provide limited resources (track pieces) and specialized types of car etc had the makings of an economy and toolkit within the economy and toolkit.
There is a definite movement to more haptic control interfaces, none more so than the blend that has been created and released on the world at CES 2010 with the Parrot AR helicopter. A wirelessly controlled flying toy/copter that you control with your iphone and that also provides video and data feedback to you with various headsup displays and tricks. It is a form of AR, but like most AR the term gets used for all sorts of things.

Sitcking a camera on a vehicle is of course not a new thing DCJ put a wireless camera on his rocket at the launch day we had back in 2008 but the Parrot AR Drone is a very nice evolution and combination of technology and design

Fresh Decade Fresh Fish

I have a mini side project for an iphone application that I want to get submitted as soon as possible this year. Mainly this is to test the process. It has caused me to start doing some things that are clearly not my forte. i.e. Graphic design. I have no problem using any of the graphic design tools, and I really quite enjoy them, but my results are always…. well… meh.
For the app I needed to create some original visuals, as for a proof of concept I had used some 3d models from elsewhere just to get a feel for this. What I was aiming for was something fishlike.
This is what I have got too so far using the wonderful Cheetah 3d on the mac.
Now bear in mind I am a techie not a visual designer, but I did have to use a few things here.
I created the mesh from initial prim shapes in cheetak, then joined and imported them into a single mesh.
I created a set of character joints, the blue skeleton elements showing then had to remember ho to create the skeleton tag on Cheetah and drag it across to the properties to bind the skeleton to the mesh. (All this is bread and butter stuff to a good designer and animator of course!)
The texture, such as it is was using photoshop elements to create a stained glass window effect, then create another one one top of that in order to get some randomness and mess it up a bit.
Then I created some poses, remembering in Cheetah to create the pose once the root node for the pose had been selected. It was then a case of moving the joints around and saving each state.
Finally in Cheetah I created some animations, setting poses and timelines and key frames before saving the thing.
Then sparked up unity Iphone and dragged the poor fish like thing into the environment. Here the animations just played.
Hit publish and Xcode gets sparked up, the app gets deployed and running on the test Iphone.
Not a piece of code written, all config and clicking.
Of course now I can do what I know I can do. Write code to make the things happen in the way I want them too.
I will of course have to revisit the “Fish” maybe put some more bones in, try some smoother textures or try and draw it as one mesh not a bunch of lumpy prims. The trouble is I know it will never look as good as someone who really does this stuff.
Doing this though, and I recommend all tech and biz people give it a go in some for, does give you an appreciation of the visual design skills of those around you. I think too often it is taken for granted. I think the same can be said for good code though. The things under the covers, such as in this tool chain with the Mac OS, Cheetah 3d, Unity 3d and the Iphone OS none of which got in the way of the idea.
Trying to make things in different domains to ones we are used too, with tools that we are not skilled in using is a great way to understand what others do, what is good and what is mediocre. “Web 2.0 is Web Do” extends to many more things. Its a new decade give something a go, just so you either know how hard it is or you may find a new talent 🙂

Talking Heads, Photospeak and easter eggs

I am always interested in ways we are able to talk one piece of content and do something with it. I recently started using Photospeak an iphone application you can find on the app store. It is somewhat like Crazy Talk that I have used over the years for things like my Second Life Wimbledon 2008 video and the Daz in foil (of pointawayfromface) and also these examples

Photospeak lets you take a 2d facial photo, it then sends it off to a server, does some magic and returns an instrumented and working interactive semi 3d version of you face. One that tracks movement and can also lip synch. It is always a little creepy, and very uncanny valley, in particular because of the eyes. However, when recording this video of the iphone app I happened to double tap the screen and discovered this add on to it. (it may be documented but who reads docs nowadays?) It also instantly made the face more convincing I found. Not least because I wear glasses normally.

More iphone Radgoll experiments

I carried on with a few ideas of what to do with the ragdoll version of my Evolver avatar and I ended up with this interesting behaviour. Which is sort of where I was heading. It is a form of emergent behaviour caused but the avatar being suspended by the two top spheres using a form of hinge. This combined with gravity and the bones and joints in the avatar lead it to create this dancing toy effect that is different each time it is run. Next is to wire the strings up to touch controls and then I have a full dancing avatar to play with on the iphone.