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Smart laser tag

February 8, 2015 Leave a comment

Laser tag is still a niche market, but it caught up a little bit in the last years. There are few things before becoming mainstream.

Even though you can play it virtually anywhere, either in the office or in the woods, it is mostly spread in the arenas. And I think the problem is the equipment. It is bulky, hard to set up and most of the times needs a central computer to work at its full potential.

Of course, there are outdoor versions too. They are built around a microcontroller with an uploaded software. Here the problem is that we’re having limited computing capabilities and as a consequence limited features too. Lately, on Kickstarter, there are projects, where the guns are built using an Arduino-like board and sometimes even a touch screen. Extended capabilities and features.

Another issue are the sensors. A laser tag system is practically made of a gun and a set of sensors. The gun using an infrared LED emits a ray which, if it is intercepted by a sensor, it is considered a hit. When the “life” points are completely drained, the gun works no more. Sensors are usually small and mounted on vests, headbands or guns. Why I say that this is an issue? First of all, if it they’re mounted on the gun, this is not too realistic, right? And also the sensors are directly connected to a gun. Again not too realistic – you cannot have two guns, you cannot pick up a killed enemy gun. So it will be nice if you can disconnect the gun from the sensors.

And when it comes to guns you have a limited amount of models. As the systems are incompatible, building many gun models is not feasible.

Another thing is the price of such a system. The cheapest will usually go over $100 a piece.

My idea is that a very realistic, loaded with features and cheap laser tag system can be built. To address the issue of the microcontroller (and its limited computing capability) and the price, the idea of using a smartphone instead is obvious. Nowadays, almost everyone has a smartphone and this will greatly reduce the final cost of the system (we will not count the smartphone price, as you already have it).

Then we can easily address the gun-sensor connection. A gun will have a Bluetooth module, a microcontroller (much smaller) and an infrared LED. And a battery, lens and two buttons: trigger and connect. The connect button allows to connect a gun to a Practically a gun will transmit through the LED whatever it receives from the smartphone through the Bluetooth receiver. There is still a microcontroller, but it is “thinner”, smaller and cheaper.

This way a gun can be handled by more than one player, of course, not at the same time. And the gun can be built as a module that can be mounted as a scope on any existing guns, like an airsoft gun. So you also have a wide selection and even blow-back guns.

And the sensors, mounted on the vest, headband or both, will connect directly to the smartphone and will be the ones to control the “life” points. It can connect to the smartphone through Bluetooth or USB, but then the smartphone must support USB OTG (which is becoming more and more frequent). And this will be solving another issue: battery. I know that the smartphone usually has a smaller battery life, but external power banks are now cheaper and common and many will most probably already have one. For convenience you can even have the smartphone on your favorite armband. So the sensor vest, maybe connected with a headband, will be just a network of infrared receiver with different circuits if you want different weight of hits. This way the system allows head shots for the most skilful ones. The vest can be connected only to one smartphone and if the “life” points are drained, then the app will declare the player dead who will be able to transmit to the gun.

Now going back to the laser tag system as a smartphone app. What new features does this bring?

Practically there’s no smartphone without GPS. Now imagine that you can have a map on which you can see the position of your troops (and even their “life” points status), you can launch virtual airstrikes and even set up virtual proximity mines (with friendly fire or not) . It does bring new dimensions to the game, isn’t it? And if the smartphone is actually a Google Glass-like device, augmented reality will open new opportunities. You can have this on a smartphone too, but, if not mounted somehow on the gun, it is harder to handle to actually view the augmented reality..

New games can be easily invented, like capture the hill or capture the flag (virtual flags). If you pass a certain area, you capture a flag and a notification can be sent to everyone. Even games like escorting prisoners are easy within reach.

Customization now becomes the sweetest part of such a system. Beside the “life” points, you can have armour. Or doctors. Or prisoners. Or you can even do virtual drop-off that can be picked up by players by just going in the exact area. They can contain drugs (life points), armour, shells.

And to have it all, if you build such a system in a plug-in-able way, then anyone can develop new guns, games or any other feature and share them with the entire community. Imagine that you use PhoneGap and everyone can develop a plugin using JavaScript. A web laser combat game – just wow!

Now to talk a little bit about the price, production price I mean.web laser

Laser tag is still a niche market, but it caught up a little bit in the last years. There are few things before becoming mainstream.

Even though you can play it virtually anywhere, either in the office or in the woods, it is mostly spread in the arenas. And I think the problem is the equipment. It is bulky, hard to set up and most of the times needs a central computer to work at its full potential.

Of course, there are outdoor versions too. They are built around a microcontroller with an uploaded software. Here the problem is that we’re having limited computing capabilities and as a consequence limited features too. Lately, on Kickstarter, there are projects, where the guns are built using an Arduino-like board and sometimes even a touch screen. Extended capabilities and features.

Another issue are the sensors. A laser tag system is practically made of a gun and a set of sensors. The gun using an infrared LED emits a ray which, if it is intercepted by a sensor, it is considered a hit. When the “life” points are completely drained, the gun works no more. Sensors are usually small and mounted on vests, headbands or guns. Why I say that this is an issue? First of all, if it they’re mounted on the gun, this is not too realistic, right? And also the sensors are directly connected to a gun. Again not too realistic – you cannot have two guns, you cannot pick up a killed enemy gun. So it will be nice if you can disconnect the gun from the sensors.

And when it comes to guns you have a limited amount of models. As the systems are incompatible, building many gun models is not feasible.

Another thing is the price of such a system. The cheapest will usually go over $100 a piece.

My idea is that a very realistic, loaded with features and cheap laser tag system can be built. To address the issue of the microcontroller (and its limited computing capability) and the price, the idea of using a smartphone instead is obvious. Nowadays, almost everyone has a smartphone and this will greatly reduce the final cost of the system (we will not count the smartphone price, as you already have it).

Then we can easily address the gun-sensor connection. A gun will have a Bluetooth module, a microcontroller (much smaller) and an infrared LED. And a battery, lens and two buttons: trigger and connect. The connect button allows to connect a gun to a Practically a gun will transmit through the LED whatever it receives from the smartphone through the Bluetooth receiver. There is still a microcontroller, but it is “thinner”, smaller and cheaper.

This way a gun can be handled by more than one player, of course, not at the same time. And the gun can be built as a module that can be mounted as a scope on any existing guns, like an airsoft gun. So you also have a wide selection and even blow-back guns.

And the sensors, mounted on the vest, headband or both, will connect directly to the smartphone and will be the ones to control the “life” points. It can connect to the smartphone through Bluetooth or USB, but then the smartphone must support USB OTG (which is becoming more and more frequent). And this will be solving another issue: battery. I know that the smartphone usually has a smaller battery life, but external power banks are now cheaper and common and many will most probably already have one. For convenience you can even have the smartphone on your favorite armband. So the sensor vest, maybe connected with a headband, will be just a network of infrared receiver with different circuits if you want different weight of hits. This way the system allows head shots for the most skilful ones. The vest can be connected only to one smartphone and if the “life” points are drained, then the app will declare the player dead who will be able to transmit to the gun.

Now going back to the laser tag system as a smartphone app. What new features does this bring?

Practically there’s no smartphone without GPS. Now imagine that you can have a map on which you can see the position of your troops (and even their “life” points status), you can launch virtual airstrikes and even set up virtual proximity mines (with friendly fire or not) . It does bring new dimensions to the game, isn’t it? And if the smartphone is actually a Google Glass-like device, augmented reality will open new opportunities. You can have this on a smartphone too, but, if not mounted somehow on the gun, it is harder to handle to actually view the augmented reality..

New games can be easily invented, like capture the hill or capture the flag (virtual flags). If you pass a certain area, you capture a flag and a notification can be sent to everyone. Even games like escorting prisoners are easy within reach.

Customization now becomes the sweetest part of such a system. Beside the “life” points, you can have armour. Or doctors. Or prisoners. Or you can even do virtual drop-off that can be picked up by players by just going in the exact area. They can contain drugs (life points), armour, shells.

And to have it all, if you build such a system in a plug-in-able way, then anyone can develop new guns, games or any other feature and share them with the entire community. Imagine that you use PhoneGap and everyone can develop a plugin using JavaScript. A web laser combat game – just wow!

Now to talk a little bit about the price, production price I mean. The gun module has a Bluetooth chip, a microchip, an infrared LED, a lens, a battery enclosure and two buttons. The parts are all probably under $40. The sensor vest and headband have infrared receivers, microchip and USB connector. All together under $40. So you have a full featured laser combat system, easy extendable through software plug-ins for under $100. But this without counting the smartphone, power bank and software. But if the latter would be a community open-source effort … Maybe soon …

Categories: Ideas Tags: ,

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Categories: Ideas

10.000 euro pentru tineri care dezvoltă soluţii multimedia

April 5, 2011 Leave a comment

Aş dori să mă înscriu şi la a doua ediţie a concursului Idei tari pentru că, prima participare a însemnat mult pentru mine prin faptul că am cunoscut foarte mulţi oameni din Romtelecom şi de la diferite universităţi şi am discutat cu oameni care vorbeau aceeaşi limbă cu mine… cea a pasionaţilor de tehnologie. Am putut să îmi prezint ideile şi să îmi fac o imagine mai clară despre locul în care se află momentan technologia în România. Am văzut că sunt mulţi oameni talentaţi şi m-am bucurat enorm că există instituţii şi fundaţii cum este şi cea a Romtelecom, care sunt interesate de tinerii ca mine şi le oferă sprijin să arate ce pot.

Este declaraţia lui Hunor Bocz, câştigătorul premiului special din cadrul primei ediţii a competiţiei naţionale Idei tari, organizate de Fundaţia Romtelecom pentru români, pe care l-a obţinut pentru un proiect de casă inteligentă.

Hunor este un puşti de numai 13 ani care în loc să iasă cu prietenii şi să vorbească numai despre muzică, preferă să mănânce pe pâine proiecte robotică şi tehnologie, în general. Iar el nu este singurul, poate doar cel mai tânăr şi entuziast aplicant la cea de-a doua ediţie a competiţiei, care îi vizează de această dată pe cei care se pricep în special la dezvoltarea de soluţii multimedia.

Orice tânăr până în 35 de ani care poate să creeze, de exemplu, un personaj interactiv online sau o aplicaţie speech-to-text (restul temelor sunt disponibile pe site-ul competiţiei) are şansa să câştige între 2000 şi 5000 de euro, dacă se numără printre cei trei mari câştigători.

Temele acestei ediţii au un caracter inovativ, iar nivelul lor de dificultate depinde de ce îţi alegi să dezvolţi. Dacă cei care se înscriu au cunoştinţe de programare, electronică nu pot spune despre teme nici că sunt floare la ureche, dar nici că sunt imposibil de abordat.

adaugă Hunor, rugându-i pe toţi cei care îl cunosc să îi ţină pumnii. Urarea este de fapt pentru toţi cei care vor să demonstreze în cadrul competiţiei că pot implementa proiecte complexe, iar pasiunea pentru multimedia le aduce şi premii consistente în valoare totală de 10.000 euro.

Tinerii pot răspunde provocării până pe 30 aprilie 2011, iar pe www.ideitari.ro găsesc toate detaliile pentru înscriere.

Categories: Ideas Tags: ,

Behind CoolIdeas – IdeiTari

November 20, 2010 Leave a comment

In a previous post I was telling you about CoolIdeas (IdeiTari) contest, held by one of the main player in the Romanian telecom industry, Romtelecom. I got the chance of going behind the scenes and interview the project manager, Ionela Paunica. So here it is for you, just to know better the people that made it possible.

Personally, I believe that the most important part in everything is the idea. How did you come up with the idea of Cool Ideas contest (in Romanian, IdeiTari)?
Because we are talking about an area where technology evolves rapidly, and innovation is essential for its further development, we thought we should organize a contest in which young talented and passionate of telecommunications could come up with innovative projects and be in the same time, rewarded for their ideas. It is an approach directly related to the business of Romtelecom, as a telecom operator.

For Romtelecom, as a company, what was the main reason behind this contest?
Students and young people in general need to be close to the realities of the IT&C market, as they anyway collect, directly or indirectly, the benefits of it. That is why the genuinely interested persons in this area don’t need just to concentrate on the theoretical aspects of the study, they need to be challenged on the practical side as well.
Romtelecom wants to be close to the fresh minds of the young people and their new ways of communicating and relating with the society.
This is therefore a win-win situation in the interaction between Romtelecom and the young people, in which both parties have something to learn and to gain.

Did you have any models in mind while starting or doing this (other companies, other similar contests)?
We looked on other such contests addressed to the young people and tried to come with a different and attractive concept for them.

I suspect that Romtelecom invested a lot of time, money and effort in this contest. But what was the hardest part for you as an organizer in the first edition?
Even if it might not seem so, it was a complex project and its management in itself was quite challenging. It was in many ways difficult, but it was in many other rewarding – such as keeping in touch with all the contestants and being there for them and helping them with any issues that they encountered.

In your opinion, what was the main gain for you as a company and as individuals in the first edition?
We got the chance to show young people the tremendous changes which Romtelecom went through in the past years – this company is completely different than the one they used to recall from their childhood when fixed telephony was the only service available from us. Many of the participants told us that the company is now among the top places to consider when looking for a job in the telecom area, as it is a modern company which offers real opportunities to young people.

Let’s jump a little bit on the other side – the contestants. If given the chance, will you enroll to such a contest? If yes, what will be your driving factor, except the cash prize?
The challenge in itself. I would get the chance to test my ideas and to receive valuable feedback from professionals. On the other hand, I like the brand of the contest – Idei tari (Cool Ideas).

What is your main focus when judging the ideas?
The projects were marked, mainly, depending on the innovation level, the applicability of the ideas and the capacity to offer solutions.

Is there a “success profile” for a contestant?
The quality of the projects mattered a lot, beside the ideas and the presentation skills, which helped them to highlight the ideas. But rather than this, nothing else. Keep in mind that a 13 years boy had the courage to compete on equal bases with master’s students and he even won a special prize for the most innovative idea.

In the end, any other tips for the contestants?
To be confident and never give up, even if maybe at the contest’s moment he/she couldn’t perform at his/her best.

Categories: Ideas Tags: , ,

Cool ideas reloaded

November 9, 2010 Leave a comment

When I was just a kid, I heard that in some countries, people were paid just for their ideas. In a newly post-communist country this seemed almost unreal. Now, more than 20 years after, this became everyday life reality. And even more interesting is the fact that companies realized that doing this, it really pays off.

That’s why Romtelecom, one of the biggest Romanian telecommunication providers, launched on October 25th the second edition of their contest Idei tari (cool ideas in Romanian), focused on multimedia applications. Just a quick glance at their website and you clearly see that we are talking here about cutting edge technology and cool ideas that will really make a difference in the industry. Of course, the prizes will match your effort and creativity:

  • first prize – 5000 euro
  • second prize – 3000 euro
  • third prize – 2000 euro
  • … plus internship at Romtelecom and subscription to a related topic conference

Just to remember, the first edition was focused on telecom solutions and it was won by a 23 years young men with his solution “Genetic algorithms applied in planning and design of telecom networks”. A special prize was won by 13 years kid who made it to the final with his intelligent home solution: Tech Home.

Something else I would like to point out about this contest. Something that I like and I think it should be done more often here in Romania: the collaboration between industry and education. In this case the jury is made of Romtelecom experts and university teachers.
But it seems that Romtelecom has quite a history here. A partnership between Romtelecom, Huawei Romania and Faculty of Electronics from Bucharest Polytechnics University is already in place and a state of the art telecommunication laboratory for students was created as part of this collaboration. Total amount invested: over 200k euros. Companies, like Romtelecom and Huawei, that understand that the real asset are the people will become more and more successful in the future. They need to involve in education and other aspects of the society, but this effort and long time investment will surely pay off.

So, if you are Romanian and under 35 years old, raise up to the challenge and submit your idea before April 30th 2011. Good luck!

Categories: Ideas Tags: , ,

Web In Progress – proposals

June 30, 2010 Leave a comment

As promised I said I’m back with some project proposals for the WebInProgress contest. Please keep in mind that these are merely some examples, you can register your own proposal.

  1. Mobile VNC server – Implement a “lightweight” VNC server for mobile. What “lightweight” means must be defined.
  2. XSidebar – Implement an easy customizable/scriptable cross-browser sidebar. This is not part of a specific web page, but augments the web browser. It is usually implemented as web browser add-on.
  3. RSS mobile widget – a mobile widget (not standalone application) capable of displaying an RSS feed.
  4. Rendering engine in Firefox – implement a Firefox add-on that will integrate different rendering engines like IE (multiple versions), Webkit or Opera in Firefox. A project can implement only one rendering engine, and ideally all the projects will be interoperable.
  5. Anti-spam application for mobiles – an application that will block spam (SMS, email, instant messages) for mobile. This will integrate with a community anti-spam server.
  6. SyncML for bookmarks – define a SyncML protocol for bookmarks and implement it for mobile and/or major browsers.
  7. Mobile gallery – an image gallery that works with different source like local images, Flickr, Snapfish, Picassa, Google Images etc. New sources should be easy to configure and add.
  8. Mobile/desktop/web reporting widget – a widget that will display a chart (pie, bar etc) aggregating data from web services. The widget will be implemented on a mobile platform, desktop or within a web page.
  9. XSLT browser add-on – a browser add-on that is applying an XSLT and displaying result on-the-fly for the current tab.
  10. VoiceXML mobile browser (hint: leverage mobile voice recognition and speech synthesis capabilities of the device)

And in the end a few considerations for all the proposals

  • For mobile applications the following platforms can be used: Android, webOS or any other major one. For a project, a team can consider only one implementation. It would be ideal that all the implementations (even from different teams) be interoperable and offer a similar user experience.
  • For browsers add-ons the following browsers can be considered: Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chrome and Safari.
Categories: Ideas, WebInProgress Tags:

Personal screen ads

October 20, 2009 Leave a comment

If I already opened the ideas vine, let’s hear another one.
I saw a lot of media LCD screens appearing in Bucharest lately. Unfortunately, I think the crisis affected the advertising budget of companies and these screens as a consequence.
So why not using them for everyone, not only for big budget advertising companies? And here is a possible solution.
But first of all, why somebody would like to use them for ads? One example, dedications. Love ones ;).
And now let’s see how. Let’s say that you want to propose your love one. You go to the media screen company website, even from your mobile phone. There you will create online your message, specifying the text, the template (red text on pink falling heart, white text on a blue stripe over a bouquet of lilies etc), the exact time of appearance, the display time and the exact display from an entire network of media screens allover the city. You can even see a preview of the entire ad.
One more step left, payment. The final cost is automatically calculated taking into account the time of the day, the period and the location of the display.
The entire ad will receive a unique code in the system and you will see that code at the end. Now if you send that code through SMS to an extra-cost number you will receive a confirmation of your message, payment, URL with details and the exact time when it will be displayed.
You have to work a little bit on your synchronization and it might cost you some money, but the effect could be one of a kind.
It could also be that the easiness of creating such ads could attract even smaller companies.
Do you like the idea? What would you display on such a media screen?

Categories: Ideas