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TED2008

Johnny Lee: Free or cheap Wii Remote hacks

Filmed
Views 5,500,910

Building sophisticated educational tools out of cheap parts, Johnny Lee demos his cool Wii Remote hacks, which turn the $40 video game controller into a digital whiteboard, a touchscreen and a head-mounted 3-D viewer.

- Human-computer interaction researcher
Researcher Johnny Lee became a YouTube star with his demo of Wii Remote hacks -- bending the low-cost game piece to power an interactive whiteboard, a multitouch surface, a head-mounted display ... Full bio

So, as researchers, something that we often do is use immense resources
00:19
to achieve certain capabilities, or achieve certain goals.
00:24
And this is essential to the progress of science,
00:27
or exploration of what is possible.
00:29
But it sort of creates this unfortunate situation
00:31
where a tiny, tiny fraction of the world
00:34
can actually participate in this exploration
00:36
or can benefit from that technology.
00:38
And something that motivates me,
00:40
and what gets me really excited about my research,
00:41
is when I see simple opportunities
00:43
to drastically change that distribution
00:45
and make the technology accessible
00:47
to a much wider percentage of the population.
00:49
And I'm going to show you two videos
00:51
that have gotten a lot of attention recently
00:53
that I think embody this philosophy.
00:54
And they actually use the Nintendo Wii remote.
00:56
Now, for those of you who aren't familiar with this device,
00:59
it's a $40 video game controller.
01:01
And it's mostly advertised for its motion sensor capabilities:
01:04
so you can swing a tennis racket, or hit a baseball bat.
01:07
But what actually interests me a lot more
01:10
is the fact that in the tip of each controller
01:12
is a relatively high-performing infrared camera.
01:14
And I'm going to show you two demos of why this is useful.
01:17
So here, I have my computer set up with the projector,
01:21
and I have a Wii remote sitting on top of it.
01:25
And, for example, if you're in a school
01:27
that doesn't have a lot money, which is probably a lot of schools,
01:30
or if you're in an office environment,
01:32
and you want an interactive whiteboard,
01:34
normally these cost about two to three thousand dollars.
01:36
So what I'm going to show you how to do
01:39
is how to create one with a Wii remote.
01:41
Now, this requires another piece of hardware,
01:43
which is this infrared pen.
01:46
You can probably make this yourself for about five dollars
01:48
with a quick trip to the Radio Shack.
01:51
It's essentially got a battery, a button and an infrared LED,
01:52
and it turns on -- you guys can't see it --
01:55
but it turns on whenever I push the button.
01:57
Now, what this means is that if I run this piece of software,
01:59
the camera sees the infrared dot,
02:03
and I can register the location of the camera pixels
02:07
to the projector pixels. And now this is like a whiteboard surface.
02:12
(Applause)
02:15
So for about $50 of hardware, you can have your own whiteboard.
02:18
This is Adobe Photoshop.
02:21
(Applause)
02:24
Thank you.
02:30
(Laughter)
02:31
Now, the software for this I've actually put on my website
02:32
and have let people download it for free.
02:35
And in the three months that this project has been public,
02:37
it's been downloaded over half a million times.
02:39
So teachers and students all around the world
02:41
are already using this.
02:44
(Applause)
02:45
I want to quickly say that although it does do it for 50 dollars,
02:51
there are some limitations of this approach.
02:53
But you get about 80 percent of the way there,
02:55
for about one percent of the cost.
02:57
Another nice thing is that a camera can see multiple dots,
02:58
so this is actually
03:01
a multi-touch, interactive whiteboard system as well.
03:02
(Applause)
03:04
For the second demo, I have this Wii remote
03:07
that's actually next to the TV.
03:09
So it's pointing away from the display,
03:11
rather than pointing at the display.
03:12
And why this is interesting
03:15
is that if you put on, say, a pair of safety glasses,
03:17
that have two infrared dots in them,
03:21
what these two dots are essentially going to give you
03:23
is, give the computer an approximation of your head location.
03:25
And why this is interesting
03:28
is I have this sort of application running on the computer monitor,
03:29
which has a 3D room, with some targets floating in it.
03:32
And you can see that it looks like a 3D room -- if
03:35
you can see -- kind of like a video game, it sort of looks 3D,
03:38
but for the most part, the image looks pretty flat,
03:41
and bound to the surface of the screen.
03:43
But if we turn on head tracking,
03:45
the computer can change the image that's on the screen
03:50
and make it respond to the head movements.
03:52
So let's switch back to that.
03:55
(Laughter)
03:57
(Applause)
04:01
So this has actually been a little bit startling
04:11
to the game development community.
04:14
(Laughter)
04:15
Because this is about 10 dollars of additional hardware
04:17
if you already have a Nintendo Wii.
04:20
So I'm looking forward to seeing some games,
04:22
and actually Louis Castle, that's him down there,
04:24
last week announced that Electronic Arts,
04:27
one of the largest game publishers, is releasing a game in May
04:28
that has a little Easter egg feature
04:32
for supporting this type of head tracking.
04:33
So -- and that's from less than five months
04:36
from a prototype in my lab to a major commercial product.
04:38
(Applause)
04:41
Thank you.
04:47
But actually, to me, what's almost more interesting
04:50
than either of these two products
04:52
is how people actually found out about them.
04:54
YouTube has really changed the way, or changed the speed,
04:56
in which a single individual
05:00
can actually spread an idea around the world.
05:01
You know, I'm doing some research in my lab with a video camera,
05:03
and within the first week, a million people had seen this work,
05:06
and literally within days, engineers, teachers and students
05:10
from around the world, were already posting their own YouTube videos
05:13
of them using my system or derivatives of this work.
05:17
So I hope to see more of that in the future,
05:19
and hope online video distribution
05:22
to be embraced by the research community.
05:24
So thank you very much.
05:26
(Applause)
05:27

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About the speaker:

Johnny Lee - Human-computer interaction researcher
Researcher Johnny Lee became a YouTube star with his demo of Wii Remote hacks -- bending the low-cost game piece to power an interactive whiteboard, a multitouch surface, a head-mounted display ...

Why you should listen

To understand Johnny Lee, just take a look at his website. Aside from his Wii Remote hacks -- voted the #1 tech demo of all time by Digg -- you can see all the other places his mind has turned: typography, photography, urban renewal ... to say nothing of his interesting sideline in Little Great Ideas, like the hypnotic "___ will ___ you."

After earning his PhD from the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, he joined the team at Microsoft responsible for Project Natal, a controller-free motion sensing device for the Xbox 360. He's since turned his attention to accelerated technology R&D at Google.

More profile about the speaker
Johnny Lee | Speaker | TED.com