I’ve been working on this Wii Smartboard hack project for about two weeks and today I’m pleased to report that I finally have liftoff !

What is it? Johnny Lee (who presented at TED 2007) has been doing some fascinating work with simple Wii remotes. One of his projects, shown below, has been to make a “hack” version of a SmartBoard using a wii remote, an infrared light, and a bluetooth capable computer.

It’s been blogged about all over the Internet, and several of you have urged me to write about it, but I wanted to try it myself before passing it along. So … here are the gory details (more lucid details, without all the embellishment, can be found on Johnny Lee’s website. It is the project called Low-Cost Multi-point Interactive Whiteboards Using the Wiimote.

STEP 1: Build an infrared light pen and borrow someone’s wii remote. I did purchase the parts from Radio Shack for under $10: an infrared light, a switch, some wire, and a AA battery. For the pen construction (which was going to possibly require some sautering), I enlisted the Industrial Technology Wing of our campus for some help. One of their students did a fabulous job disassembling a standard whiteboard marker to create our working infrared pen. When you press and hold the switch, the infrared light is on. In our model, the battery is housed in the tail end, which makes it relatively simple to replace (by removing the duct tape). The infrared light is glued into the tip to hold it steady.

STEP 2: Find a computer that has bluetooth that can be hooked up to a projector of some sort. This actually turned out to be one stumbling block. It turns out that not a single classroom computer on our campus is bluetooth enabled. This left us scrounging for laptops (or my tablet PC), which kind of defeats the purpose of installing the system in a classroom, but for the purposes of trying the technology, it was fine.

STEP 3: Get the computer to detect the Wii Remote. This was the hardest step. I spent hours trying to get my tablet to pair with the Wii Remote. I still have not gotten my tablet to “synch” with the remote. It would detect the existence of the Wii Remote, but it would not pair. I suspect it has something to do with the fact that I am running Windows XP Tablet, and not a standard version of Windows XP or Vista. The tablet keeps insisting that I give a code for the Wii Remote before it will pair. This evening, my assistant Jill volunteered her laptop for the experiment and we used her Bluetooth (for the first time ever) to successfully perform the synch. So that’s one good thing I can say about Windows Vista. Where I spent hours not getting XP to synch properly, Vista managed it in under a minute.

STEP 4: Download Johnny Lee’s Wiimote Whiteboard software (found on his website). You can’t even run the software until you get the Wii synched, so don’t bother trying.

STEP 5: With the computer projecting, and the camera part of the wii pointing at the projected space (mirroring the computer screen), run the Wiimote Whiteboard software and calibrate the pen to the space. If the pen does not seem to be seen, you will have to keep adjusting the wii camera and starting from scratch until all four calibration points are easily seen by the wii remote.

This is Jill demonstrating our successful launch of the Wii Smartboard Hack.

Now, you’re going to ask, how does it work? Well, we still don’t have it set up properly. We need to play with the angle of the Wii remote camera, but Jill’s laptop ran out of power before we got a chance. You can see that the writing we’ve got on the board in this calibration is somewhat “blocky” but it was smoother in a previous (not pictured) calibration.

I guess all I can say, at this point, is that I can verify the technology works. So we have, at least, accomplished that much. Ideally, I would affix the wii remote semi-permanently to the ceiling projector apparatus so that it couldn’t be bumped during use, but I promised to return the wii remote (unharmed) to the owner.

So, we’ll update you again when we have power for Jill’s laptop and some time to work on our calibration issue. In the meantime, start thinking about what we might be able to do with a “smart” table with four seats and four infrared pens!

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