Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Entry for TechWeek - Office Pet

Competition: Design An Office Device

Update:  28th June 2013
By Lyndsay Williams

The Office Pet - Gossip Generator 

An earlier design of Office Pet

Most offices have a water cooler or coffee machine in a kitchen  that people congregate around to chat and share gossip.
Many of these conversations are ephemeral and never heard again. The is a device that will record these pieces of corporate wisdom  and play back snippets  at appropriate moments, e.g. people entering the  kitchen or a lull in the conversation. To encourage office chat the privacy of replayed message  is ensured by editing and  pitch changing the play back and also speed, which disguises the original speaker.
The device has thermal sensors  to detect if people are in the kitchen and is polite enough to wait for a gap in the conversation (unlike real employees) to speak up with some random snip of gossip just heard earlier. People will be aware the head is recording as it will have animated   features, e.g. winking eyes. The device can also prompt conversations, e.g. "Good Morning, how are you?" if it detects a single rather multiple people in the room.

The design is based on an RS Arduino Esplora as has sufficient computing power and has  included on board sensors and it can fit inside the head a hollow 3D printed  head, along with the sensors and speakers and other components. A Raspberry Pi  was considered, but the head needs a long  battery life, as needs the ability to be handheld as has motion sensors, internet connection  is an option add on  re privacy issues. The Explora has  multiple built in sensors and microphone which  the Raspberry Pi does not but the design could be adapted for the Pi.

The physical design of the head can be based on a person of choice, perhaps the most recently deleted  employee who is missing out on office gossip and the current employees will perhaps feel trust and empathy.

 The person's head will  be 3D scanned (before they leave) with a standard 3D scanning phone app, e.g. Autodesk 123D Catch (available for Apple and Android) edited with Google Sketchup   and printed with a 3D printer. The head will be hollowed using 3D CAD design to provide space for the components, and can be 3D printed at Shapeways. The decapitated head can make a fitting memorial to a recently departed employee.

The eyes can move, (asynchronously)  and glow. They are based on a colour OLED display  fitted in the eye sockets and controlled by the Arduino.   The eyes can  sleep, blink, roll,  wink etc at random can give an aura of humour, surprise, disdain,  boredom, sleeping etc.  As the thermal array has multiple  sensors, it can detect the difference between men and women by height and other attributes. Appropriate stereotyped messages for men and women can be spoken and initiate conversations, e.g. "How was the football this weekend?" and "I like your new hair!"

The hardware design is  routine as is a system build with Arduino  with proven sensors. The creative and innovative work is provided by the software, some has been tested by the designer.
Pitch shifting is trivial, a voice is recorded using the ADC and on play back to reduce pitch, extra samples are added, to increase pitch, every n samples recorded e.g. 1 out of 4 is discarded for + 4/3 pitch shift.
The Arduino's ATmega32U4 allows PWM for analog output for the  audio amplifier .

The head may act as a friendly face in the kitchen or may rapidly clear the room so staff are more productive and don't stand around chatting. Previous variants of this design have been built and tested, for a USA based company, and unexpectedly resulted in less fridge raiding by employees.

A camera can be added to capture  images,  but this invasion of privacy might stifle conversation and creativity and so not used in this version.
A motion sensor such as the built in  accelerometer can be used to get physical with the  head, a quick shake can erase the last few minutes of conversation if decided to be litigious. The head can be put on it's side to make it sleep, as sensed by the accelerometer. The Esplora has a light sensor which can switch off the device in the dark. There is an SPI interface for a memory card for the audio recording. There is also  a USB port for the option of adding peripherals such as internet connection. No robotics design using an Arduino is complete unless there are moving parts so the spectacles will slide down the nose at appropriate moments to reveal the eyes.

Components from RS (ex VAT)

Other Components

interface for memory card to Arduino
head -made with 3D printer (various)
movement actuator for spectacles.

The inventor is a practicing electronic engineer, computer researcher,  and retired University Reader, (University of Northumbria, School of Design, p3i)   who has designed and  built  designs for  several UK universities, toy companies, UK Military, HM The Queen, UK security services and Police, Sir Alan Sugar, and shipped hardware designs (cameras, phone sensors)  for  Microsoft and Apple. The above technology has all been build and proven in parts. The inventor no longer works in an open plan office but in solitary confinement.

Invention category: Art and Entertainment.
email:  Lyndsay Williams, sensecam@gmail.com, tel +44 (0)7970 101578

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