Saturday, October 28, 2006

Travelogger: A Gadget to Record and Document Your Travel Memories

I just came back from a small trip to Manali and Kullu. While there, we also visited Rohtang Pass (Altitude: 4000 meters) and Manikarn. Manikarn has hot water springs and we cooked rice and potatoes in the boiling water (temperature: about 95 degrees Celsius).

On the way to Rohtang on the second day of our trip, there was a small mishap. We lost our beloved Nikon Coolpix 4100 digital camera. I guess at that altitude with very low oxygen levels, I wasnt as sharp to realize when the camera slipped off my shoulders. The loss was a little damper to an otherwise wonderful trip.

But, there was a bright side to the loss. It made me think of a device that would help travellers to record and document their travels. Here is what I had wrote on 24th October 2006, at the back of a restaurant bill:

I have always faced this problem while travelling: The desire to take notes of what ever is happenning, correlate the photos I take and maybe even add more information... but Once its over, I feel too lazy to do anything...

Here is a technology solution:

A battery powered portable device with a camera, a microphone, memory storage using SD card or something similar, temperature sensor, humidity sensor, optional GPS.

Camera is similar to the ones in mobile phones these days. Not too fancy. Fixed focus, hands off operation.

The user wears the camera on a headband. The mic is used to record travel anecdotes, travel related information as it happens.. in the form of a running commentary. Intermittently, a time stamp is also taken, as he user dictates into the mic. The speech stored on the SD card is interspersed with images, temperature, humidy readings etc. Similarly, user coordinates can also be recorded if GPS unit available and stored.

Eventually, all the information stored on the SD card is downloaded onto the PC and a speech to text program is used to convert to text. Interspersed with temperature, humidity, coordinate information and photographs, a custom PC software converts all data in to a HTML webpage!

Thus in the end, you have a Travel-Log.

I was really excited about my idea and on the first opportunity I got to get online, I talked to Anurag.

And he started laughing. He told me, I was reinventing something! Turns out that Microsoft has put in big bucks on a similar (OK, I overshot a lil bit) project titled MyLifeBits, pioneered by Gordon Bell, Jim Gemmell and others. They added a camera component to this project. The camera, Sensecam, is also developed in a Microsoft lab.

It is interesting to note that the MyLifeBits project has its genesis in the Memex Device, that was described in the July 1945 article in The Atlantic Monthly, titled "As We May Think" by Vannevar Bush. No relation to the American president Bush apparently.

The upshot is that my idea of a Travelogger is very similar to the one being pursued by other people, except for the speech to text part that I am rooting for, in my device.

A few students from the current batch of ECE students at NSIT have now decided to pursue this as part of their B.Tech. final year project. I dont see any glitch in its implementation. By great coincidence, I have the major part, a CMOS Camera module, required for this project.

Dhananjay Gadre

PS: While in Manali, you rely upon Yash Pal (cell number: 09816271899) to drive you around in his cosy lil Maruti Alto. Highly recommended for his promptness and reasonable charges.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Brain Waves for Control

When I wrote the AVR Book , I added a figure (seen on the left), to show how in remote future, you might be able to download programs in a Microcontroller.

How naive I was!

Because, it seems controlling gadgets with brainwaves is not so futuristic afterall! A company called IBVA Technologies (Interactive Brainwave Visual Analyzer) has been in the business of creating hardware and software for many computer platforms, to use Brainwaves to control other programs on the computer, or other gadgets. And they have been doing this for a long time now.


Hope to see this technology being made available more easily so that it can be used in day to day applications.

Dhananjay Gadre