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MIT Robot Lamp Turns Desk Into Interactive Surface

LuminAR is an MIT Media Lab project that reinvents the desk lamp as an interactive, robotic interface for online content

2 min read
MIT Robot Lamp Turns Desk Into Interactive Surface

What if your desk lamp could not only shine light but also project online content onto your workspace? LuminAR is an augmented reality project from MIT's Media Lab that combines robotics and gestural interfaces in an everyday household item.

Developed by Natan Linder and Pattie Maes from the Fluid Interfaces Group, the device consists of two parts: a bulb and a lamp. The LuminAR Bulb can be screwed into a standard incandescent light fixture and contains a pico projector, camera, and a compact computer with wireless access to the Net. The lamp fixture, meanwhile, is a a rotating base with a multi-jointed robot arm that can move to different positions by following user gestures. 

The bulb's camera tracks hand positions while the projector streams online content to different areas of the desktop. The two turn a desk into an interactive surface. The robot can also be taught to remember preferred areas to project content or digital tools such as an email application or a virtual keyboard, as seen in the video below.

The project is similar to the Sixth Sense by Pranav Mistry, also of the Fluid group, and other gestural interfaces that combine hand tracking with content projection. The difference is the form factor. The LuminAR Bulb could have wider appeal because it can be used with any ordinary desk lamp, though it would then lack robotic functions.

Still, it's an innovative way to free computing from the mouse-and-keyboard box and embed it in the environment. I wonder whether the projector is powerful enough to work well on a brightly lit desktop, and whether the robotic arm might misinterpret an involuntary gesture like sneezing and do something undesirable. Or it might hand you a tissue.

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Image and video: MIT Media Lab

The Conversation (0)

The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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