If I was to walk into a mobile phone shop and demand a full size skateboard controller for my mobile or an interface to control an Etch-A-Sketch I wonder what they would do? Maybe they would laugh or insist that no normal person would want to do that or claim it can't be done. Yet last Thursday night in an unassuming corner of the east end of London, UK, I found people who were experimenting with these ideas and more. The event was the Push N900 Showcase, organised by Nokia, and I was delighted to be invited along. I even had a go at a bit of live video broadcasting with my trial Nokia N900 while I was there.
Waiting for us in the main part of the event hall were some pole dancing robots and a robot DJ that had either CCTV cameras or megaphones for heads, apparently these were being controlled by Nokia N900 handsets. Very strange! As you might have guessed this is art, and started out as a commentary by artist Giles Walker on Britain's many many CCTV cameras. They even had a robot that you could send text messages to and it would do various things. We weren't just treated to robots pretending to be humans though, also in attendance was a man famous for pretending to be a robot; Robert Llewellyn who played Kryten in the TV series Red Dwarf.
Push N900 is an invitation by Nokia to the hackers of the world to see what they can do with the N900. This phone is pretty much open source and functions very much like a small computer, leading to all sorts of opportunities. I like this approach, we are getting more powerful devices on the market now and it is great to see people experimenting and dreaming and being free to try out new ideas. Now five teams from this process have been selected to showcase their work and have their progress followed in the Push N900 blog.
I decided to experiment a bit more with video at the event which is not a medium I am very good at so please forgive the quality of the footage! I used Qik to stream video from the N900 to the Internet almost immediately (by the way, my apologies for the lack of subtitles, I don't think you can add them to Qik yet). So this is the first ever person I've interviewed on video; Lady BNA-NAS of the Light Hack Crew, who talks about her team's entry which is about light graffiti.
Across the room was a belt, not any old belt but one that could literally take you places. The Haptic Guide is an effort to build a belt that vibrates in order to give you hints as to where you should be going. This is part of an idea to help with sightseeing, the belt will guide you to where you want to go so you can keep an eye on the sights rather than constantly looking at at map. This sounds like a great idea, I think a benefit of this too would be that you could use this to look less like a tourist so not attract unwanted attention.
Some people love the idea of “reaching for the skies”, and maybe don't even take it metaphorically. Ricardo Mendonça Ferreira loves aerial photography and decided to strap his N900 to a kite. This involved the need for a mechanism to control where the N900 points and this was on display at the event. It could position the N900 even though the device was just hanging from a couple of strings attached to the ceiling.
One thing I have never been able to do is draw on an Etch-A-Sketch. I can just about write “hello”, but that is it. They are bizarrely difficult to actually draw with, fortunately a team named Sketch Your World have applied the N900's processing power to this tricky task and the versatile device and got it to control the Etch-A-Sketch to render complex images.
The last project being showcased was one that I must admit I quite liked. Often when people talk about computer games they do so in a disapproving tone, stating that people should be outside, not on their sofa playing computer games. So imagine if you could do both.. Now such a thing is possible thanks to the efforts of the Solderin Skaters who have created a game based on skateboarding, but with a twist. Their game uses an actual skateboard, it is not a “skateboard controller”, but a normal skateboard with sensors attached. Skaters can do stunts (is that what it is called? I must admit I don't know anything about skateboarding) as they would do normally, but sensors in the skateboard communicate with a program running on the N900 to compare their performance to one recorded earlier by an expert. They then get awarded points.
The event was a great evening and one I enjoyed tremendously. Great to go to an event and see everybody really having fun and being very creative. My thanks go to Push N900 and WOMWorld/Nokia for inviting me. It will be interesting to see where this can take the N900 as a device, will it mean that people who identify themselves as “non-geeks” become less likely to buy the device? Or will it give the N900 a unique position as a phone that can push the development of mobile phones into new territory and possibly become some sort of cult device? Only time will tell.
If you are in the USA and reading this you might be interested to know that Push N900 USA has just been launched, for more details see: http://blogs.nokia.com/pushn900/usa/.