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Robopalets for smartphone turned into an input-output device

Marc teyssier

French engineers have created a robotic finger connected to the smartphone, which can serve as an input-output interface or move the smartphone. The development will be presented at the UIST 2018 conference.

In recent years, the majority of research and development in the field of interaction of people with computers, smartphones and other electronic devices focused on touch interfaces. But some engineers continue to experiment with different physical interfaces, and often these are not just buttons, but more unusual devices, such as a robotic sensory robot chain .

A group of engineers led by Eric Lecolinet of the French Institute for Intelligent Systems and Robotics has developed a robotic finger that can be connected to a mobile device and can perform several functions at once. Robopalets are similar in size to an ordinary human finger and also consist of three segments. Five small servomotors are responsible for its movements, thanks to which the finger can bend, turn in different directions and press with a force of 0.8 newton. At the base of the finger is a microcontroller for control and a Micro USB port, through which it receives commands and power.

Thanks to the motors, the finger can be used as an output device, the servos allow you to track the bending of the finger, and the flexible potentiometer allows you to register the user’s pressing of the finger. The developers have proposed many different ways to use the device.

As a device for displaying information, the finger can, with its movements, display notifications or other information from a smartphone, as well as duplicate or supplement what is happening on the screen. For example, engineers have shown how the device acts as the tail of a virtual scorpion. In addition, they taught the finger to move the smartphone on the table and tilt it for easy viewing of the video.

Also, developers have come up with ways to use the finger as an input device: it can switch the operating modes of a smartphone or control a virtual character. The finger can be used with other tools, for example, it can draw on paper or shine on an object, so that the light always hits it, regardless of the position of the smartphone.

The developers conducted a study among 51 volunteers and found out how people relate to certain modes of operation of the device. Participants were shown videotapes of the actions and asked them if they liked such usage scenarios, whether they found them useful. The idea of ​​using a finger to draw on paper sheets received the highest overall rating, and the funniest participants considered interacting with a virtual cat, flapping their tail, and using a finger to crawl a smartphone. The developers note that they were surprised by the low result for useful in their opinion applications, such as displaying notifications.

Robopalets is just one of the many options for devices that engineers suggest using to interact with computer equipment. For example, recently American and Chinese engineers have created smart watches that project an image onto the user’s hand. And, perhaps, one of the most unusual I / O devices in recent years can be considered a swarm of small robots created in 2016, which can line up as pictures in pixels, act as sliders and “twists”, bring objects to the user and perform other functions.

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