Johnny Chung Lee: Hacker of wiimotes

23 Nov

In 2007, a fella by the name of Johnny Lee got a wiimote to work with a computer, he then proceeded to do very cool things with it such as DIY electronic whiteboard, finger tracking and head tracking. What he did was take normally very expensive equipment and then make it work using cheap, easy methods with parts from a games console.

The wiimote itself has an IR camera in it. This is how the wii works and tracks your movements. The wii sensor bar has two sets of IR LED’s in it which send out IR light for the wiimote to pick up.

The wiimote can track four points at once, usually in a wii sensor bar, there are six LED’s but they are angled so that the wiimote can pick up on a whole range of movement.

Johnny Lee uses this same principle, but usually in reverse, he keeps the wiimote still while moving the sensor bar around. Doing this allows for a whole range of applications where attaching a wiimote to your person is impractical, but attaching some LED’s are. For example, for his head tracking mod, he takes some safety glasses that have LED’s on the side to light up your working area and replace them with IR LED’s. Doing this allows you the players head movement, and, as his video below shows, it works really well.

Thats the beauty of using the wiimote for tracking purposes, it works really well. That’s what it was made for after all, thats what nintendo spent so much money figuring out, how to get the wiimote to track reliably. As long as you can access the bluetooth data from the wiimote, then you can do reliable tracking too.

I really like watching Lee’s example of head tracking here, the whole depth and perspective thing shows just how well head tracking works and the beauty of it. As long as one player is playing the game and no more, then the immersive potential of head tracking is huge. Being able to physically look round objects and have the game act like its a real place is a very cool thing indeed.

But there the problem lies, it’s for one player only. The Wii is a huge success because it brings multiplayer together in a fantastic way. Families can easily play fun, cartoony games together and that’s why they sold in huge numbers, limiting it to just one player takes away from this magic really and makes it something that just isnt as fun anymore.

Especially if what the other people around are seeing is something a bit weird as the whole game shifts itself around based on the one players point of view.

Johnny Lee is on the right track I think, and I am very grateful that he figured out how to do so many cool and interesting things with the wiimote, but making playable games isnt what he does, he just makes huge, impressive human computer interactions and he has done that well.

I’m using his initial ideas of HCI with the wiimote and taking it a bit further as I needed headtracking that was a little bit different, it detects head turning rather than side to side leaning.

But, just like Johnny Lee, I think hacking toys to do things that are a bit cooler than what they were initially made for is the best thing ever. Toys and games console interactions have huge amount of R&D put into them to make them cheap, affordable and easy to use that they become the perfect platform for hacking into to create some really cool and exciting HCI. Take the new Kinect for example, it may be £130, but for what it does it’s incredibly cheap and does some pretty amazing stuff, hacking into it is incredibly simple too which makes the whole thing even more astounding that suddenly, anyone can make these huge interactive installations that can detect exactly what surface you are touching and then push out a response. You just couldn’t do that before, at least not cheaply. Now just about anyone can do it and that makes creating interactive installations just that bit more awesome really.

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