VoodooIO

A new physical interface that can be easily constructed from a collection of basic controls (Voodoo Pins) that are dynamically pinned into and manipulated on an active material.

Enhanced Life
VoodooIO makes the interface flexible by decomposing interactive hardware into atomic interaction units (Voodoo Pins) that can be combined and arranged ad hoc into functional interfaces for computing applications.

Voodoo pins are realized as embedded computers that can communicate with a desktop PC via a planar networking substrate, using Pin&Play technology. The Pin&Play infrastructure involves a substrate with embedded conductive layers and custom-designed coaxial connectors that allow the pin computers to affix to the substrate, providing both physical attachment and digital connectivity. Ad hoc networking techniques allow any combination of pins to be dynamically brought in and out of play from the substrate network. A communications protocol provides automatic discovery of network pins, as well as bi-directional communication between pins and the computer. A high-level programming API, configuration tool, and application hooks allow VoodooIO to interface with existing applications.

The result is a novel and usable technology with distinct properties that afford unique possibilities in functional interaction and user experience.

Goals
To develop a new type of human-computer interface: a flexible fabric that allows spontaneous provision of physical control to the digital functionality of applications, allowing its physical composition and functionality to be dynamically adapted as an interface that supports the changing requirements and preferences of its users.

Innovations
VoodooIO contributes a novel way for small embedded devices to be practically realized and used as physical interaction components. Major technological considerations with physical toolkits are distribution of power and computation. In this system, the substrate is a centralized power source, implying that devices need not be equipped with batteries. This has significant advantages in terms of reducing device size and eliminating concerns for battery life, while using the substrate as a physical medium for network signals removes the need for costly wireless communication modules. Computation is distributed between devices and central software components, which contributes to the robustness and scalability of the system (the interface remains equally responsive no matter how many pins are connected).

The combination of materials used to manufacture the network substrate, as well as the bespoke design of the coaxial connectors, make for a unique way to physically construct the interface. The Pins easily penetrate into the substrate, which holds them fast in place while they are attached, and heals over when they are removed.

Vision
VoodooIO is a flexible fabric for physical-digital interaction, which allows the interface between the user and computer to be easily created and redefined at will. As the trend toward ubiquitous computing continues, and the computer leaves the desktop to become a pervasive resource in our environment, we must constantly rethink the way we interact with such an infrastructure. VoodooIO allows users rather than developers to be creative in this process and decide what they want their particular interface to look, feel, and act like for their particular application needs at a particular point in time.

Contact
Nicolas Villar
Lancaster University
Villar (at) comp.lancs.ac.uk

Contributors
Florian Block
Hans Gellersen
Dave Molyneaux
Lancaster University