Product placement

I’ve been working with some colleagues on a new technology — a rollable mat that functions as a kind of “video camera” for pressure. If you stand on it, it sends to your computer or smart-phone a high quality time-varying image of your feet, toes, etc. Below is a typical image of that (with different pressures shown in different colors):

You can also lie down on it, bounce a ball on it, or use it as a rug under a chair. It’s very versatile.

We’re making them 2ft × 3ft in size, and they will wirelessly communicate with smart-phones, tablets or computers. We want lots of people to be able to use them, so we’re trying to make them very inexpensive. It looks like we’re going to be able to sell them for just $199 a pop.

You can also put them side by side to create a single giant sensor. At NYU this spring we’ll be using 96 of them, to create a 24 ft by 24 ft pressure imaging floor for our motion capture lab.

We want to make these mats available to the world, but we need to do so in a self-sustaining way. In other words, whatever people use it for needs to be something they are willing to pay for. Otherwise, we will just run out of money and we’ll have to stop making them.

People have expressed interest in using them as game controllers, for posture and balance assessment, to help practice golf swings, and as exercise mats. Other people would like to use them to help identify people. For example, if the mat outside your front door recognizes you by the way you step onto it, it unlocks the door for you.

You can also just use one to weigh yourself. Roll it up and take it with you on a trip, then unroll it when you get there, and you have a smart scale that can send your current weight to your favorite smart-phone app.

Personally, I want to use one of these, together with my GearVR virtual reality headset, to create a meditation experience. I sit on the mat, put on my VR headset and headphones, and enter beautiful and calming alternate worlds, where I can fly around on my magic carpet.

I’m curious if anyone has any favorites among these ideas, or if you see some other cool use that we haven’t thought of yet.

12 Responses to “Product placement”

  1. Joe says:

    How about measuring feet for shoes?

    I’m aware that Clarks foot gauges for kids exist, and that previous versions of them were surprisingly complicated.

  2. admin says:

    Yes, thanks, that’s a good one, and it has come up a few times in discussions. What we’ve been thinking is that we could sell enough units to make it financially worthwhile if we could make it a home service: Your little kid with his/her rapidly growing feet steps on the mat, and properly fitting shoes are soon delivered to your home.

  3. Stephan Ahonen says:

    It’s funny, because the first thing I thought when I saw the picture, before I read the post, was “that looks like the screen on the thing they used to measure my feet when I bought my current pair of work boots.” The guy told me my feet were hurting because I have high arches and he sold me the most comfortable pair of boots I’ve ever owned.

    I imagine that it will be able to do anything a Wii Fit can do, except with the ability to do it over a larger surface area. Imagine a workout studio equipped with this, a computer can evaluate the form of an entire class and direct the teacher’s attention to people who need it, or simply send notifications to their phones/smartwatches/wearables.

    Depending on how flexible it is, you could probably use it to evaluate mattresses, see how well the mattress is distributing pressure.

    Paint it white and pair it with a projector, or put an OLED layer over it or something, and you have a pressure-sensitive touchscreen. A lot of creative possibilities there if the resolution of your measurements is high enough. If it can be made comparable in cost, it might be an effective replacement for capacitive touchscreens for scenarios where capacitive touchscreens are inappropriate. I know in the pro audio industry, a lot of audio mixing consoles are coming out with touchscreens and I’m very reluctant to get on board with them because I do outdoor events where it can rain, and capacitive touchscreens don’t work well with moisture on them.

    You could probably make some kind of musical instrument out of it. Pressure for volume, horizontal position for pitch, vertical position for tone? Lots of potential for something with a lot of expressiveness.

    What kind of resolution/precision/dynamic range are you capable of measuring? Can you reveal that?

  4. sharon says:

    It likes like it ought to be useful as part of a setup for teaching or recording dance moves.

  5. J. Peterson says:

    Very interesting! What’s the accuracy / precision of the data generated?

  6. admin says:

    Ah, these are all great suggestions and great questions!

    Our technology can be used for different resolutions and pressure ranges — but for any manufacturing one we need to choose a particular resolution and pressure range.

    Since we want to support applications where the mat goes on the floor, the pressure range for these mats is several ounces to hundreds of pounds. Positional accuracy is 1/100″ inch, with “sensels” spaced every 1/2″, which means we can distinguish objects as near as 1″ apart.

    We also currently have sensors with 1/4″ sensel spacing and much lighter touch, geared for fingers rather than feet, which can detect a touch as light as 6g, but we’ve been thinking that sensors which can cover entire floors will open up entirely new applications, since there is currently nothing out there which can do that affordably.

    Stephan, we can make them with a lighter pressure range to support large multitouch wall touch displays, and several companies that make large interactive wall displays have said they are interested in that. Unlike capacitive touch screens, these can be made arbitrarily large. It’s mostly a question of whether the market for that is large enough for us to focus on the lighter pressure range.

    The point about them being usable for multitouch in outdoor places where it can rain is very good. I wonder whether audio mixing consoles are the killer app for that, or whether there are other outdoor “hands and fingers” uses we should also be thinking about.

  7. Tom says:

    I did a project in school working on commercializing a highly accurate pedometer/gyroscope sensor. One of the applications that we came up with was using the pedometer sensor as a tool for gait analysis for physical therapy as well as a geriatric diagnostic tool. I remember that there was a correlation between the gait of older people and their propensity to experience life altering falls.

    One of the competitors in this space used a similar mat:
    http://www.tekscan.com/multi-step-foot-pressure-walkway

    Other ideas:
    * controller for snowboard games (or other board sports)
    * A smart treadmill
    * Open source Wii fit ( or yoga) type program
    * I wonder if there is an automotive application? Drive a car onto 4 mats to check its balance
    * Build it in to the bottom of an office chair / machine operators chair to give alerts/suggestions about ergonomic seating. It could buzz when slouching, etc.
    * Could it be used behind a canvas to detect brush strokes or behind paper to capture pencil movement?
    * Smart punching bag? Shows info on hitting force, technique, etc.

  8. Stephan Ahonen says:

    Really, any rugged mobile computing sort of application would work great. Anybody who uses a computer outdoors, the current market for Toughbook type machines. Heck, if you could put it into my cell phone so it doesn’t go crazy when my hand sweats, that would be great.

    The neat thing about it as a touch screen interface is that pressure sensitivity brings back the distinction between pointing at something and clicking on it. A UI can disregard light touches and brushing against the screen as irrelevant and only act upon deliberate user input (I need this in my ebook reader!). It also means that you open up the ability to use the way the user modulates pressure as a component of your UI. Touch screens have “taps” and “swipes” and “long presses,” a pressure-sensitive UI adds things like “slow press” where you start light and gradually press harder, and so forth.

    A couple other uses:

    * Sports medicine, pads that can tell you how an athlete was hit.

    * In/out calls in sports. Did the player or ball land out of bounds? Were the basketball player’s feet inside or outside the three point line when he shot? 1/100″ precision should be enough to answer that.

  9. sally says:

    Alzheimer’s patient is OUT OF BED and WALKING TOWARDS the DOOR!

    Dog is IN THE BEDROOM again!

    LEARN THE MACARENA!

    OH YES YOU DID DELIVER THAT PACKAGE OUTSIDE OUR DOOR!

    THE WEIGHT IS HIGHER IN THE TEEN’S ROOM, SOMEONE SNUCK IN!!!

    The surveillance possibilities are endless, unfortunately….

  10. sally says:

    Alzheimer’s patient is OUT OF BED and WALKING TOWARDS the DOOR!

    Dog is IN THE BEDROOM again!

    LEARN THE MACARENA!

    OH YES YOU DID DELIVER THAT PACKAGE OUTSIDE OUR DOOR!

    THE WEIGHT IS HIGHER IN THE TEEN’S ROOM, SOMEONE SNEAKED IN!!!

    The surveillance possibilities are endless, unfortunately….

  11. Julia says:

    Pressure-sensitive ski boots :-) http://www.notjulie.com/notjulie_1.0/projects/skiboot/writeup.pdf

    I imagine power consumption may be an issue. For my prototype I kept the module in my pocket…

  12. Jarle says:

    As a programmer by daytime and dancer by hobby, I’d definitely like a couple of these for dance teaching and learning purposes.

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