Socially interacting computer appears on the scene

February 25, 2008

by Mark Ollig

In the mid 1970’s, having a “Pet Rock” was considered normal.

I’ll admit to owning one of those pet rocks.

It was simple pet to care for . . . no microprocessors or built-in high-tech computer-augments.

The case it came in included a manual on how to teach it tricks.

The only two tricks I was able to teach mine to obey were “sit” and “stay.”

It would not obey “roll-over,” unless I helped it.

Today I learned of a new type of computer-human interface device called, “The Wizkid.”

The creators of the Wizkid are trying to change our concept of how people interact with computing devices.

Frederic Kaplan, who is an engineer, and Martino d’Esposito, an industrial designer, created this device. They will be displaying their creation at the Museum of Modern Art in New York’s upcoming exhibition, “Design and the Elastic Mind.”

The Wizkid has a rectangular base with what looks like a neck and a video screen “head” attached to it.

Wizkid does not have a mouse or keyboard.

A small eye-camera on the top of the screen uses a “computer-vision” like technology which is the method computers or robots use to obtain information from images. This is how it “sees.”

I was curious – to be displayed in a modern art museum, there must be something special about it.

I soon discovered the “special part” of Wizkid has to do with “augmented reality” or AR.

Now, I am no computer scientist, but one definition for AR says it is “a field of computer research which interacts with the combination of real-world and computer-generated data.”

One example of AR the Wizkid uses is when it first sees a person. The Wizkid focuses on the person and follows their movements; it has the flexibility to move its “neck” like a human does, with the screen acting like a head.

This device carefully observes and analyzes its surroundings in detail.

The Wizkid also has the ability to interact with humans.

The Wizkid will focus its electronic eye on you, and will respond through the “visual interpretations” of the person it is observing.

Wizkid’s inventors envision their creation as playing a new and important role in the transitional world we currently inhabit.

“Wizkid gets us AFK – away from keyboard – and back into the physical world,” explains Kaplan. “Unlike a personal computer, it doesn’t force the human to accommodate, and it’s fundamentally social and multi-user.”

Kaplan isn’t suggesting Wizkid will replace the language-driven interfaces of ordinary computers. However, he does believe there are many areas in which Wizkid’s augmented reality could simplify and enhance the human experience.

On Wizkid’s monitor screen, you see yourself. Around you on the screen there is a “halo” of interactive-elements, or icons. To activate an element, you wave your hand towards it. These elements are program applications.

The Wizkid is not only used as a personal computing assistant; it is also designed for school and business use.

It is hoped by using Wizkid that folks will browse products in a store or obtain information in a gallery or business without having to touch any screens.

The Wizkid learns and interacts with you and your world and that includes your media and entertainment center.

One example is when Wizkid ‘sees’ you holding up a DVD cover – it knows you want it to start your DVD player for you.

Wizkid’s ‘creature-of-habit’ program will keep track of your preferences, along with anticipating what type of music you might like to hear when you come home from work or school.

Say you’re having a party; Wizkid can be the official photographer, independently taking pictures of your guests. Wizkid will then create a visual journal of the event, which can be sent to everyone afterwards.

Once you have interacted with the Wizkid, if you walk away and come back, the device will remember you and try to continue the “conversation.”

For me, this type of augmented reality would take some getting used to.

The Wizkid appears to be a glimpse into the future of the social-interacting computer.

It seems like Wizkid’s inventors are trying to create more of a “computing companion” for us human beings to interact with.

In the classic Star Trek episode called, “Requiem for Methuselah” an immortal man named Flint is living alone on one of those plentiful class “M” planets.

Flint decides to create the perfect human-like robotic companion (with what appears to include an augmented-reality) to accompany him throughout time. Flint names this robot Rayna.

During Captain Kirk’s visit to this planet, the robotic Rayna discovers it has feelings for both Kirk and Flint and is having difficulties choosing between the two.

Sadly, robotic Rayna ends up having a “robotic nervous break down” and shuts itself off.

I guess some robots aren’t meant to have an augmented realty.

To see and learn more about the Wizkid, visit their web site at http://www.wizkid.info.