Lamp responds to human faces

By Cassandra Mason

A "curious" lamp that responds to human faces has been brought to life by three Victoria University students.

In the spirit of Disney Pixar's lovable animated lamp Luxo Jr, "Pinokio" is an inanimate object testing the boundaries between machines and living beings.

The project is a collaborative effort by Victoria University students Shanshan Zhou, Adam Ben-Dror and Joss Doggett, who met in a Physical Computing class.

The lamp's movements are informed by a webcam with an algorithm working behind it.

Robotics and facial recognition technology enable the lamp to search for faces in the images from its webcam. When it spots a face, it follows as if trying to maintain eye contact.

"It basically behaves like a dog, sitting on your desk," said Pinokio's programmer and software engineer Zhou.

"That looking around behaviour is totally random in a completely organic way."

She says the lamp is "pretty basic" in the way it makes sense of what's happening around it.

"It's very curious, it's kind of like a baby... it's more interested in a human face than anything else. If you cover your face, it gets confused."

And when you go to switch it off, Pinokio will playfully flick itself on again.

But the focus of the project wasn't functionality, said Zhou.

The team wanted to ask the question: "What if an industrial object is created not as an obedient tool, but to live?"

So they decided to create the lamp to explore the potential of a "living algorithm".

This was achieved with a combination of robotics, automated manufacturing technology and open-source software.

And the result is a small lamp with a big personality.

"It's just interested and curious about what's going on," said Zhou.

The group named the lamp Pinokio after the puppet, who "rebelled against his fate of being a mere object, but comes to life magically", she said.

Pinokio took six weeks to complete and has generated "quite a bit" of interest since.

"Our video got half a million views," said Zhou.


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