Wiimote Control

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It's a recipe for internet popularity if ever there was one—Nintendo Wii, virtual reality, infra-red light and a digital DIY spirit. Such are the ingredients of 28-year-old Johnny Chung Lee's projects, which have literally brought a new dimension to human/electronics interaction.

Gamers and homebrew electronics buffs began baying at the moon when Lee, a student at Carnegie Mellon's Human Computer Interaction Institute, released his first Wiimote video late last year. The work presented the Wii's hardware in radically different terms—Lee was showing people how to use the video game controller to track their fingers in mid air (a la Minority Report), turn any surface into a multi-point whiteboard and, most mind-blowingly, create a desktop virtual reality display based on the position of their heads in space.

Richmond, Virginia native Lee took to tinkering as a youngster, eventually programming on a Texas Instruments TI-85 graphing calculator in middle school; now, he's a PhD student working on the Wii, a product with two types of exciting technology built into its controller. "Nintendo did a very brave and commercially innovative thing introducing accelerometers as a primary input mechanism on such a large scale," Lee says about the ability of the remote to sense your golf swing or sword strike. Moreover, he says, "the camera chip in the front of the Wii remote was a total surprise and is still an immensely impressive device." Lee's desktop VR, which uses the Wiimote to track your infrared-equipped head's position in space will open interesting doors, he thinks.

"It has the most obvious near term applications in the interactive video gaming, where both the software and hardware are in place to utilize it," Lee says. "But, in general, it's an evolution of display technology—just like 3D TV will also be an eventual evolution."

Lee doesn't think Nintendo's engineers intended to have people like him repurposing their technology, but he says it's "wonderful" that the company hasn't discouraged his research. "The open development community now loves the Wii remote, and community projects simply feed into the praise of the console technology and improve the Nintendo brand," he says.

"It's the hardware/software version of user generated content adding value to the product. In some cases, like head tracking, the ideas might be exciting enough to potentially feed back into the main product."

Don't bet against Lee joining a major game company's R&D lab; he presented his Wiimote projects to the audience at the exclusive TED conference last month.

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