iPhore - a third way to SMS
Why not use semaphore flags to write an SMS to your mates?
This story begin with a pub conversation and ends with the result you can see in the youtube video above. I'm sorry to say it was a pub conversation which took place a very long time ago, more than a year now. I should have rushed home and done this straight away. First of all, I'll tell you the end of the story.
Skip to the end
I showed a functioning Semaphore-driven iPhone SMS messaging system at Glitch Giving 2007. You can see a demo of the system above. You can download the software and there is an instructable too. and try it yourself.
Did you say Semaphore?
There's been so much effort to identify the most perfect text input interface for SMSing on the move. So I thought I'd try to prototype the most imperfect one. Instead of wearing your thumb out with T9 predictive texting, or a so-called 'intelligent' multi-touch dynamic keyboard, you simply stand in front of your 'iPhone', about 8 feet back, moving flags or pom poms into the proper semaphore positions for the numbers you want to dial, and the text of your message. Finally it uses the BT Mojo service to dispatch your text message over the cellphone network.
I'm a beta tester for the Mojo service - I persuaded them that I was completely crazy with the Semaphore project description, which is all they really wanted to know and they gave me 200 messages free credit.
How do you do it?
The system is built on a tool called Processing which gives me easy, integrated access to the iSight camera on the Macbook Pro I was prototyping it on. Then it's a simple image processing task to separate out pixels which have the proper hue to match the flags. A running average of the hue of the different active areas is maintained. Putting a green flag into the area makes it distinctively greener, against the background average. It then looks up the flag positions in a table to see which number or letter you're representing.
The version I showed at Glitch was pretty tricky because of the flashing lighting throughout the building which kept confusing the machine vision algorithm. Also the BT Mojo service (beta) was offline that day, meaning the SMS sending didn't actually work. Shame, though, as by the next day I had it fully functioning as shown here.
Can I get one
What about the Kaleidoscope?
Since the semaphore system was a bit buggy at the Glitch event I switched it for a Kaleidoscope screensaver built using Quartz composer. This is also driven by the built in webcam, but sadly only works on the Mac. available to download and use for free, although accreditation is always welcome.