“Walky” Lets You Control Robot With Your iPhone (Video)

Your fingers walk on the iPhone screen, and the robot walks in real life. Awesome!
Your fingers walk on the iPhone screen, and the robot walks in real life. Awesome!

Take your middle and index finger and point them directly down on a surface in front of you. Now use them to “walk” around. Fun and easy, right? Yuta Sugiura (Keio University, JST, ERATO) and his colleagues working on design interfaces, have created a new way of controlling a robot. It’s called Walky and all it takes is two fingers and an iPhone. Using the same gestures you would normally use when “walking” with your fingers, Walky sends commands to a small humanoid bipedal robot to tell it to move forward and backwards, step side to side, jump, and even kick a ball. The system will be demonstrated next month at SIGGRAPH Asia 2009, but you can watch it now in the video after the break.

So the selling point of “intuitive” control systems like Walky is that they are easier to learn and use and than a standard game-pad controller approach. I have my doubts. Yes, it looks like a lot of fun to walk on your iPhone screen and get the robot to dance around in interesting ways. I admit that I would like to kick a ball using a robot and a flick of my finger. But the time jumps in the video (such as at 1:40) demonstrate that the controls are far from precise, and that it takes a concentrated effort to get the robot to move in the way you want.

It’s a common problem with the next generation of human-computer interfaces -the lack of precision. In our efforts to make controls easier, we have lost some of the ability to get the results we want quickly and effectively. Fortunately for us, and unfortunately for your keyboard and mouse, that problem is quickly being solved, and eventually we will have tactile control systems that are as accurate as our current choices. In the meantime, I think Walky serves as a fine example of the good and bad of touchscreen controls: fun but frustrating to use, wonderful to watch.

Oh, and I am required by Geek law to say the following:

“Want to make a robot walk with your fingers? iPhone has an App for that.”

[photo credit: Yuta Suguira]