Above is a video from Johnny Lee, a Computer Engineer who has chosen the Wii Remote as one of his main hacking platforms. Johnny was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to do an interview with us.
Alan Parekh: Thanks for taking the time to do this interview with us.
Johnny Lee: Your welcome, it’s a pleasure to chat with you.
AP: I get the feeling that you are a very busy person. Selling your cool steadycam units,
JL: Haha,I’m not sure. If you ask my friends, they might actually say that I don’t seem to be that busy. I guess I just spend a lot of time on my hobbies that I really enjoy doing and it turns out that my hobbies end up being productive. Even the Wii remote work started as a way to procrastinate working on my on my thesis. Sometimes projects can grow it’s own legs, like the steadycam. Enough people started buying them that I can now pay people to help me manufacture and sell them. That way I can move on to do other things.
JL: Well, I created the first slow location discovery version while I was at Mitsubishi Electric Research Labs in Boston. We were working on creating a “retail store” of the future to using projected light to augment the appearance of products or present co-located information. Like have the environment of the store changing based on your preferences. Project alignment was a systemic issue that plagued all of the installations. So, we came up with this approach of using structured light to discover the locations of pre-installed light sensors for alignment. There seemed to be a large enough body of executable future work that it made sense to use it for my thesis work. The key was just finding a single topic that was large enough and tractable.
AP: Your Wii projects have been taking the Web by storm! What attracted you to the Wiimote
JL: Well, I was excited by the Wii Remote ever since the original press release about it’s capabilities was public. Ironically, I was an intern at Microsoft the summer before the Xbox 360 was launched. Several internal people, including me, were still trying to convince the Xbox group they should put an accelerometer into the controller. That, of course, didn’t happen. The Wii remote is one of the most sophisticated input devices available today and an amazing piece of engineering containing an accelerometer, camera, and wireless communication. Combined with the ease in which you can connect it to a computer made it an obvious choice for experimentation.
AP: Have you had any discussions with Nintendo? Do you think they could use some of your techniques to
JL: I have not formally had any contact with Nintendo about this. I speculate that the Nintendo engineers who developed the controller probably knew of this technique, but probably passed on the idea or were saving it for a later product launch. But, these ideas can definitely be used in a Wii title assuming they would be willing to bundle a little bit of new hardware with it. I know several game developers are starting to look at the idea. Hopefully, the game concepts will make it all the way to market.
AP: What made you choose Computer Engineering as your field of study?
JL: I’ve always had an engineering spirit in me growing up and computers are one of the most versatile tools out there for exploring your imagination. I felt electrical engineering or computer science were too narrow for my interests. Computer engineering provides a nice balance between hardware and software giving you the skills and perspective to modify/create any component of a computational system. Nothing is a given. This has served me very well in my research.
AP: What can we expect to see in the future? Any cool projects that you have dreamed up but haven’t
JL: Hehe, I have a LOT of un-implemented ideas. My to-do list is always growing much faster that I have time to accomplish. Sometimes, I just wish I had an army of developers working for me. Hopefully, my future work will be as cool as the one’s I’ve already done. Usually, I only pick ideas that I think are cool to work on which has, so far, meant other people will probably like them too. But, it’s probably best for me not to talk about them too far in advance otherwise I might burst my own bubble. I guess you’ll just have to wait and see. Sorry to be a tease.
AP: Thanks again for taking the time out of your busy schedule to do this interview with us Johnny.
JL: My pleasure.
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