Hi Alex, welcome to Chirp. So, shall we start by talking a little bit about you?
Hi, I’m Alex Glow. I’m a massive hardware nerd and I produce videos and projects for Hackster.io. I often interview people doing weird things with hardware, so this is a bit meta!
What are you making with Chirp?
Alex: I have this robotic owl familiar called Archimedes. He sits on my shoulder and moves around a bit and looks at people's faces, and tries to tell what emotions they're showing. But right now, he basically just looks around randomly, which is kind of cool because he has this kind of cute, shy personality.
However, when people ask for pictures, I have to completely unplug him and manually move him to a good position – which is bad for his servos, and was also really annoying at the Abbey Road hackathon.
I made a hat with some buttons so that Archie could be sent commands via Chirp – like little sentences or emoji (because you can do that with Chirp!). So, I could touch different points on the hat and it would send ‘happy emojis’ via Chirp and then Archie will pose for a photo.
So I got the part working where I can receive those on my phone, but now we're trying to make it so Archie can receive those on a Raspberry Pi. I'm working on the part where you can actually control his servo motors and trigger animations from that listener script, which is a huge pain in the ass.
So if he was running out of battery, he could send you “feed me” or a sad emoji or whatever?
Alex: Exactly! In the next step, he’ll be able to talk back. I’d like to make a wrist-mounted display that decodes the Chirps he sends from his own speaker.
How did you find Chirp to use?
Alex: So the Chirp side of it is actually quite good.
It was really easy to set which protocol you wanted to use in the web interface, then use the command line to generate wav files. It was really simple, and better quality than recording them with a microphone. It's just so much cleaner to do it this way; I really like that that's an option.
What are you working on next?
Alex: I'm really into biohacking like wearables – BUT, I hate implants... I'm a bad cyborg.
I like building electronics for bio/brain things, especially things that are non-invasive that help you control your brain or control things with your brain.
For example: it's winter, and some people have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). You can treat that with these SAD lamps, right? But they’re big and bulky. So I figure I can make something you just stick onto your face that has two or three LEDs on each eye, producing a blue green wavelength.
You can also use those lamps to fight jet lag, by realigning your circadian rhythm. So this would be a fairly cheap, useful giveaway for people who are going to conferences, who are traveling from far away to attend.
But you have to be really careful this doesn't involve any UV because obviously if you're shining 10,000 lumens at your eyes – or for these ones, the eyewear ones, they ought to measure between 300 and 500 lumens at the eye – it’s pretty bright and could be damaging. I also need to include positioning aids so that people don’t shine them straight-on; they need to come in at an angle.
What technology do you want to try out?
Alex: There's a few couple companies that are working on AR glasses that look like regular glasses.
The problem with Google Glass was that it was too middle-groundy, and just the start of the technology. I feel like they should’ve gone either full cyborg or super discreet, and they didn't do either of those. Unlike Magic Leap, which is full-on cyborg and a super interesting design.
There’s even one company working on bone conductive headphones so you get the sound as well, without wearing headphones, which is pretty cool... it’s so magical, having the ability to control things sort of naturally and to augment your senses. Like being able to see in other spectra, or the obvious use, recognising people (which I suck at). But I would want to have, like, a local directory – not something online – because there’s such a potential for instant creepiness.
Part of the deal with Archimedes is that he doesn't talk to the Internet at all. So, no one can get the info off of him. He doesn't have wireless enabled at all, even though he has a Pi Zero W in his head - which is part of what I like about Chirp: offline connectivity using basic hardware.
So where can we find out more about your work?
Actually, a few months ago, Make: put some of my holograms in there – like, another author’s tutorial with photos of my holograms, but it's really hard to tell because the credit is right at the edge of the page! It’s still cool, though, and I have a copy of that one as well. I definitely recommend checking out the article… Holography is a beautiful art, and it’s easier than it’s ever been.
If you want to build your own Archimedes, you can find him in the latest issue of Make: Magazine. There's a 4-page tutorial which is very pretty, but I’ll be continuously updating the one on Hackster, which you can check out here: bit.ly/robotowl
...And stay tuned for more Chirp tutorials! ✨