Funded! This project was successfully funded on October 28, 2012.

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Exploring how technology and humans interact.

Here are my flatmates interacting with my prototype:

What is this about?

This is about me realizing an idea of mine. This is me asking for your help and offering you to be part of this idea of mine in return. What I get out of it are the resources for building a telepresence robot of my own design, which is based on principles of submersion, implicit interaction and embodiment. I will use this robot for a series of studies on mediated presence, embodiment and human robot interaction.

Some of the things you could get out of it:

  • Take a virtual trip to a location in central Europe
  • Become my boss and have me conduct related research for you
  • Become my collaborator
  • Get your own telepresence robot, capable of relaying haptic sensations
  • Be part of the process - learn from my mistakes, learn from the things which go right and learn from what I find out

Most of all, I want this to be fun, so let’s see where we can take it …

What am I doing?

We have social norms which tell us when it is allowed and acceptable  to touch each other. I want to understand how this changes if the person I am touching is not physically present, but merely represented by a physical avatar - a telepresence robot.

A and B are in  different locations in the world. However, A is present at B’s location by proxy via the tele-presence robot. A and B interact with each other. If B touches the tele-presence robot, A feels a tactile sensation.
A and B are in different locations in the world. However, A is present at B’s location by proxy via the tele-presence robot. A and B interact with each other. If B touches the tele-presence robot, A feels a tactile sensation.

I will build the experimental setup which I have outlined in the sketch above. I will conduct a study where two players will play a game which requires B to touch A on various places of A’s body. There will be two conditions. One in which A is actually present and a second one in which A is present only by proxy via the tele-presence robot.

I will be collecting quantitative data on all touch interactions. The main inquiry however will be qualitative and consist of participant observation and in-depth interviews.

I believe that the answer to my question will also give some insights on questions regarding what human presence is and how technology can act as an embodiment of ourselves. 

When will all this happen?

I have quite a tight schedule. That is why this Kickstarter campaign also is shorter than most (don’t miss the deadline! October 28th!) 

This is not a topic which is new to me, nor are the concepts, so I perceive the schedule as something which helps me focus, rather than something which I am afraid not to meet. I have been thinking about this for almost three years now and have actively been working on these problems for two years, so I have lots of material to start with. 

Here is my timetable: 

I already built a quick prototype to double-check some of my assumptions in regards to the construction of the final robot. Here is a video of me testing it:

Relevant Expertise and Past Experiences:

One of the first robots I built (early 2010) was a face-tracking robot. It was a simple setup - it had no more than two degrees of freedom (DOF - i.e.: it could move in two directions, x and y axis). When people walked into the room, the robot would follow their faces. I was amazed by how strongly people reacted to this little machine. While I knew it to be a mindless object, people immediately started to give it human characteristics such as “It is curious”, “It is confused” etc. This observation is one of the reasons why this area is so interesting to me. 

Since then I have worked on interfaces for humanoid robots with Nico Roos of Maastricht University's department of Knowledge engineering. I expanded on this work, turning it into a wearable computer interface with Audrey Girouard of Carleton University, Canada.  Through this work I managed to get a research position at Queens Universities Human Media Lab, Canada where I worked on flexible displays and organic user interfaces (OUI) with Roel Vertegaal.

In order to balance out these rather technological and quantitative experiences I conducted an ethnographic study, exploring embodiment of everyday objects in daily life with Ulrike Müller of University College Maastricht, Netherlands.

The advisor who I am currently working with on this project is Ike Kamphof who is a post-phenomenologist philosopher. She researches telepresence and tele-care at Maastricht Universities Department of Philosophy and I feel very lucky to have her support.

Some videos of previous projects which you might want to check out:

  • WristFlicker: A wearable input device (originally intended for controlling humanoid telerobots
  • A Flock of Birds: An art installation, playing with the coupling of input and output using paper as a medium
  • Animated Paper: Another exploration of paper as a computational medium (here is another video, which was featured on hackaday)

Here is another video where I talk about the project, and where I actually show my face :-D


How I contribute to the community

I am going to open source all software which I develop in the course of this project under MPL 2.0 licence. I will also document the process of building the robot and interface in detail, and post instructions on how to build your own setup on instructables.

How will I use your pledge?

950$ Is the absolute minimum I need for doing this. If I reach this, I know I can do it, however, I will still be scrambling to make it happen... 

Here is a quick table I made of what I plan on using the 950$ on and what I would use additional funding for:

Estimated Costs
Estimated Costs

Some final thoughts...

I believe science should be about communication. I hope to get people interested and involved in my project through Kickstarter. Therefore - even if none of the rewards are for you, or if your financial situation does not allow you to contribute, but this sparks your interest, please write me (paul.strohmeier+kickstarter @ gmail com). I would love to hear your criticism, suggestions, ideas and questions.  I want to keep this topic as grounded as possible by listening to your comments. I want this to be a collaboration and to achieve something in collaboration with others. 

This is not only an invitation to contribute your money to my project. I am inviting you to become an active part of my project. Be it through advice or criticism. Be it because you bought one of the higher rewards and I am conducting an additional experiment for you or because because you feel like dropping by and helping me physically put this together, or because you have some interesting reading for me. You can be part of this project.

Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

On the hardware side, my biggest challenge will be making a 'seamless' interface. I do not want the person controlling the robot having to consciously be in control - rather I want that person to simply experience being at another place. I have worked on solutions for this problem in the past (my WristFlicker project was such an attempt) however, this will be more complex.

On the content side, my biggest challenge is telling a cohesive story. It is very tempting to overtly focus on quantitative data, however, the core of what interests me, embodiment and social presence is qualitative in nature. I hope to be able to tell a personal story of interaction with technology at the end, rather than a mere summary of quantitative measures. Creating this personal, qualitative story within a scientific framework is to me the biggest challenge of this project.

****************

Finally I would like to say thank you to all those who have helped me get this online on Kickstarter. Special thanks goes to my mother Hillary Keel. Thanks also to Antonio Gomes for valuable feedback and to Reka Gyenis for listening to me explain my ideas to her again, and again and again. Thanks also to my dad Gerhard Strohmeier for being enthusiastic about it and to Brigitte Strohmeier-Hofer for immediatly thinking of ways of pushing my work further.

FAQ

  • There are two ways of looking at this.

    On the one hand, this is a science project and as such it is the type of project which Petridish is looking for. However, on the other hand, I don’t feel that simply because this is a science project it does not have a place on Kickstarter. I believe that science should be something as accessible as possible, and because of that I am not such a fan of a "science only" platform.

    I decided to stay with Kickstarter as it better represents my own background. I consider myself a maker and a ‘bottom up’ type person. As such I currently feel myself more at home here on Kickstarter. Also, the type of science which I am interested in, is the science which borders on art and design. As such I also find that my project fits the theme of Kickstarter better than the more ‘hard science’ approach I have seen from the projects on Petridish.

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  • Well it depends. There are two conditions

    i) A and B are in the same room. B simply touches A.
    A is wearing a special piece of clothing with integrated pressure sensors. These record frequency and intensity of the touches. (The amount and quality of the sensors depends upon how well the funding period goes.)

    ii) A and B are in different rooms. B touches the robot as a representation of A.
    The robot has integrated pressure sensors. They record the touches and activate corresponding vibration motors which are integrated in A's clothing. The intensity of the vibration varies with the intensity of the touch. (Again, the amount of potential touch-points and the resolution of the quality of the sensors will depend upon how much money I can finally collect.)

    If somebody decides to chose the 300 or 600 dollar pledge (which would be amazing) they get to add conditions or a whole new setup to the project (which I will credit them with.) There is so much to explore. So many combinations which could be tried... What if A stops controlling the robot and simply leaves - letting the robot perform pre-recorded behavior? What if B simply walks over to the room where A is, leaving A in control of an agent far away, but interacting with B who is physically present? How would people experience such scenarios? There are many questions worth asking. I have to start somewhere but I would love to take this a whole lot further ...

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  • Well, I think the crucial point is: There are no big secrets. This is not a project about developing new technology. Everything I use will be material which is well documented and tested. The only novel thing will be how I combine them.

    The "nervous system" of the robot will be an Arduino-Mega. I will use the Mega for

    - Visual feedback (LEDs)
    - Logging of sensor data (for the touch interactions)
    - Servo control (unless my funding goes very well, then I would prefer to use stepper motors.)

    The "brains" will be a P.C. There will be no actual logic happening on the mega, it will simply accept commands coming from the P.C. and execute them. (most likely I will be using Processing and Firmata)

    The "body" will have a "skeleton" of steel cable, which will be covered with papier-mâché. For the face I might use APOLIT (http://www.minke-props.com/materialien.php…) (it’s a thermoplastic - I *LOVE* thermoplastics, some of the coolest materials ever for prototyping)

    edit1: Here is a link to some pictures of Apolit and a description of my first experiences with it--> http://fkeel.blogspot.nl/2010/10/apolit-low-temperature-thermoplast.html

    edit2: Here is a link to some images where you can see the mechanics of my prototype -->

    http://fkeel.blogspot.nl/2012/10/prototype-for-my-kickstarter-campaign.html

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  • · During 'downtime' you will be able to connect to the computer which is controlling the robot via VPN software (something like Hamachi). Once the connection is established you will be able to control the robot with java based software (most likely a processing sketch). You will be able to look around whichever room the robot happens to be in.

    You will be able to speak with the people around it and you will be able to notify people around it with your presence by LED indicator. I will try having the robot in interesting and public places (such as the chapel which is attached to our college, or our common room), however I will need to follow University safety regulations. As there are currently no regulations on telerobots, they might just make some up and I have no way of telling what those might be.

    If I significantly overshoot my funding goal I will give the robot limited mobility, allowing you to walk up to people and move about the room you are in.

    Finally you will have the source code for the software which controls it. I have no idea what you might do with it... maybe the bot will be controlled by your cat? Or the amount of light entering your living room? Maybe it will recite Shakespeare? You could use the touch sensors to program some game for the local people... There is a lot of stuff you could make it do (just ... please don’t brake it ....:-D...)

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  • Pledge $1 or more
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    19 backers

    If you think what I am doing is cool. PLEASE show your support. If you contribute $1, this may be only a dollar to you, but to me it means: "Somebody out there believes there is merit to what I am doing". In return I will list you as supporter when I submit my final thesis. You will also receive access to weekly updates.

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    40 backers

    I actually need money to do this. I need to pay my participants, I need to buy hardware etc... So, if you are able to pitch in some extra $$ that would be amazing. When I submit my thesis, you will be listed as sponsor. You will also receive a digital copy of my thesis and weekly updates.

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  • Pledge $10 or more
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    34 backers

    Get remote access to my robot. Whenever it is not in use, I will set up public access. If you contribute $15 to the project, I will send you instructions on how to logg in to my robot in order to look around and control it. You get to poke around University College Maastricht after closing times. How cool is that? - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -  (You will also be listed as a sponsor, receive a digital copy of my thesis and have access to weekly updates )

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    6 backers

    You will receive a hand crafted thank you note, in the form of a linoleum print of my own design. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -  (You will also receive remote access to the robot, when possible. You will be listed as a sponsor and receive a digital copy of my thesis and you will have access to weekly updates.)

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  • Pledge $40 or more
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    1 backer

    For $40 I will share my raw quantitative data with you. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - I will ask you not to publish this data for one year. After that you are free to do with it as you like. Before that time, I would like you to double-check with me before you make parts of it, or all of it public. If it does not conflict with any of my own plans, you are free to do so. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -  I stay owner of the work though. So if you use it in a paper, you still cite me. If (somehow) it is the main material of your paper, it would be decent to add me as co-author....) - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -  (You will also receive remote access to the robot, when possible. You will be listed as a sponsor and receive a digital copy of my thesis and you will have access to weekly updates.)

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  • Pledge $60 or more
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    1 backer

    For $60 I will add all my qualitative data as well. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -  Same rules apply as for the quantitative data. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -  (You will also receive remote access to the robot, when possible. You will be listed as a sponsor and receive a digital copy of my thesis and you will have access to weekly updates.)

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  • Pledge $90 or more
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    1 backer

    For $80, you get access to my source material, where possible. (i.e. I need to check with ethics about releasing video material, you will *not* get any information wich could identify the participants etc.) - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -  Same rules as before apply. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -  (You will also receive remote access to the robot, when possible. You will be listed as a sponsor and receive a digital copy of my thesis and you will have access to weekly updates.)

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  • Pledge $120 or more
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    2 backers Limited (2 left of 4)

    A robotic webcam. (can look around in a room, rotating on the X and Y axis. Is controllable by the same software which also controls my robot) (You pay for shipping) - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - (You will also receive remote access to the robot, when possible. You will be listed as a sponsor and receive a digital copy of my thesis and you will have access to weekly updates.)

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    1 backer Limited (1 left of 2)

    You get all my data, plus the robotic webcam

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  • Pledge $250 or more
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    0 backers Limited (6 left of 6)

    After the project is over, before I pass on the hardware to potential backers, you get to tell me where to bring the robot. I will set it up there for you to enjoy the view. However: We need to be able to find a date which suits both of us (I can't promise to allways be available). Also the area I am willing to travel is somewhat restricted to central europe. Check out the fastest route between Vienna and Maastricht. Anything 400km or less away from that route is an option. (This includes Amsterdam, Paris, Essen, Cologne, Frankfurt, Nuremberg, Munich, Salzburg, Vienna, Budapest etc.) Maybe we can even set up a virtual tour to the city and hit the sites together :-) ... - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -  (You will also receive remote ac cess to the robot, when possible. You will be listed as a sponsor and receive a digital copy of my thesis.)

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  • Pledge $300 or more
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    0 backers Limited (5 left of 5)

    For $300 you get to be my boss. You get to create a condition in my experiment. I will follow your instructions by the minute (assuming they are practical, ethical and possible within the budget). The final results are yours. You can publish them under your name - you can do what you want with them. I keep the right to use the condition in my final paper though. If I do, you are cited as co-author. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -  I believe in academic integrety. I am not selling a name on a paper. I expect you to have a clear Idea of what you want me to do, how you want me to do it and why. I will not do your homework for you - if your request is not an actual contribution to my work I will not cite you. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -  (You will also receive remote access to the robot, when possible. You will be listed as a sponsor and receive a digital copy of my thesis and you will have access to weekly updates.)

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  • Pledge $300 or more
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    0 backers

    I will come to your school and hold a workshop. This workshop can be a very hands on interactive electronics workshop, or it can be a more theoretical workshop on science and technology. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - If you decide to select this pledge, please contact me in before hand, so we can agree upon the exact topic and location of the workshop. Depending on where it takes place, I may need you to provide me with additional funds for transportation. (easyest locations for me are New York State, Ontario and anything in Europe) - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - (You will also receive remote access to the robot, when possible. You will be listed as a sponsor and receive a digital copy of my thesis and you will have access to weekly updates.)

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  • Pledge $500 or more
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    0 backers Limited (1 left of 1)

    Buy the interface (Haptic Suit). Once I am finished with my experiment, I will send you the suit which enables remote touch. Its yours. For keeps. (You pay shipping though...) - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -  (You will also receive remote access to the robot, when possible. You will be listed as a sponsor and receive a digital copy of my thesis and you will have access to weekly updates.)

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  • Pledge $600 or more
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    0 backers Limited (2 left of 2)

    For $600 I will conduct an experiment for you. We will be using my hardware setup for exploring *your* question. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -  Same conditions as for reward #9 apply - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -  (You will also receive remote access to the robot, when possible. You will be listed as a sponsor and receive a digital copy of my thesis and you will have access to weekly updates.)

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  • Pledge $900 or more
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    0 backers Limited (1 left of 1)

    You want the robot? You get the robot. Once I am finished I will send you the robot. (Or we arrange a pickup.) (You pay for transport.) - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -  (You will also receive remote access to the robot, when possible. You will be listed as a sponsor and receive a digital copy of my thesis and you will have access to weekly updates.)

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Funding period

- (26 days)