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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.

Image and video: MIT Media Lab

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