Interaction10 – Rob Nero – TRKBRD: From Idea to Conception with Physical Prototype

Rob Nero’s presentation at the Pharmacy during Interaction10 was so packed that Todd Zaki Warfel, Brad Nunnally and I all ended up sitting on the floor in the very front of the room.

We may have had the best darn seats in the house. This presentation blew our minds. TRKBRD is far from a perfect nor finished device, but it’s a clever prototype that was fun to learn about.

Hands-down, more of our conferences need more talks like this. We learned of failures and successes and hacks and end-runs, and there was energy just in watching the story. This was definitely one of the highlights of an outstanding conference.

TRKBRD: From Idea to Conception to Physical Prototype Description:

Physical prototyping allows you to see and touch your design. You don’t have to pretend to use your design in order to test it, you can touch your design and feel the interactions firsthand.

My final project, in my first year of grad school, started as a theoretical idea for a brand new way to interface with a portable computer. The interface had never been done before, so there wasn’t hardware available for me to realize my idea or even test it with people. The only way to realize my idea physically was to use the Arduino electronics prototyping platform and create the interface device myself. With a lot of research, testing, and talking with other Arduino users, I brought my idea to fruition, the TRKBRD (trackboard) was born!

Read more of the TRKBRD Description >

Rob Nero’s Bio:

Rob is currently working on his Master’s thesis at the Interaction Design Masters program at Malmö University, in Malmö, Sweden. Before deciding to move to Sweden, he designed enterprise web applications for large and Fortune 500 companies for 10 years. Rob’s design projects while attending the Masters program include a music remix web site that was used in a national campaign for refugees, a Bluetooth-enabled music distribution box for an inner-city hip-hop club, and multiple physical prototyping projects with the Arduino platform.

After graduation in 2010, Rob is seeking employment opportunities in the physical and tangible interface areas. He hopes to continue his work in rapid physical prototyping, electronics, and people interaction in every adventure and future employment.

My Notes on the Session:

  • Rob is a student at Malmo, Sweden and the last bit of his work for his degree was “Anything”. Yep, anything he wanted, but he had to create something.
  • He was at a coffee shop doing work; his laptop barely fit on the table, as usual, and couldn’t use his mouse–hates the trackpad.
  • He found a spatial problem to solve with his laptop and the space to work in–and trackpads keep getting smaller, and they’re a pain in the ass to use.
  • The only way to make a smaller netbook is to sacrifice the trackpad space.
  • Had the idea and the tools, wanted to make this new thing.
  • Thought of: TrackBoard (keyboard and trackpad?)
  • Combining keyboard and trackpad so as to create more available space.
  • Recognized “zones” on the keyboard based upon where your hands sit on a keyboard for typing.
  • Checked out the Arduino board (Arduino Duemilanove) –
  • Rec: Getting Started with Arduino by Massimo Banzi
  • is a good electronics site to check out.
  • Built it
  • Put 3 sensors around the board – Left, Top, Bottom
  • Put 2 lasers–bottom-left, bottom-right
  • Used Infrared lasers to avoid issues with light in the area
  • He was able to get the x & y coords through this simple set up.
  • Problem with Infrared: you can’t see it!
  • But, you can hack a webcam and you can then see infrared – you can remove the lens or you can add over some exposed photo film (seems almost like an antique to find!)
  • The Arduino programming language is pretty simple, some basic background in coding may help you.
  • The memory on the Arduino is really small
  • Arduino forums really helped to optimize the code and queries to make it much smaller in memory size.
  • The end solution was 110 light sensors. The laser in the corner was to create the plane of light.
  • Problem: He showed a professor, professor posted to Arduino blog, picked it up….
  • Then Engadget picked it up! Rob nearly died.
  • Big exposure: 11,000+ video views (10-50 a day), 90,000+ links
  • Now a Russian wants to rebuild as the equivalent of what Smart Boards/Walls are in the US (at my kid’s school)
  • Final Prototype
  • Tested & Iterated
  • Did “Man on the Street” Guerrilla User Testing
  • Gave lots of demos, too
  • Had focused feedback from the demos that he gave; felt people gave him real loves & hates
  • is the website, @TRKBRD is the twitters.
  • He’s only doing this for his Masters; it’s not anything beyond that (at this point).
  • He does some “faking it” in Flash since he doesn’t know Windows or Macintosh coding.
  • Can double tap to open
  • Single tap [X] to close it
  • Independent control of both interfaces
  • Can select/highlight text
  • Can type without moving the cursor – but on the entire trackboard, not a real keyboard
  • Also: This was awesome.

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