Anyone who’s troubleshot a parent’s computer over the phone has been there, futilely attempting to describe icons or menus. Some ideas just can’t be conveyed over a phone or even video chat, because sometimes, you just need to point.
Grasp, developed by Akarsh Sanghi as part of his master’s thesis at Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design, presents a novel solution. It’s a tiny robot that sits on your shoulder–kind of like the prototypical good conscience angel–and allows someone to remotely guide you through a complicated set of instructions.
The hardware is simple enough. It’s basically a webcam, speaker, microphone, and aimable laser pointer, and a few straps. Software allows a mentor or teacher to control Grasp remotely, providing a near first-person view as their student learns a new skill like cooking or playing an instrument. Using a PC or even a phone, the teacher can speak their advice and aim the laser pointer, via an onscreen digital joystick, to call out specifics.
Sanghi tells me that he’s gained a lot of attention from his prototype already, with interest from professionals in medicine, HVAC work, and the military. But given that the hardware and software was developed in just eight weeks, he’s not quite ready to bring the product into full production.
“There are certain limitations to the current version of the prototype like size, comfort while wearing it, weight etc,” Sanghi says. “To take the device to the next level–to make it into a commercially viable product–a lot of aspects of the project will have to be thoroughly tested and modified accordingly.”
It even begs the question, does Grasp need to live on the shoulder? Or could it work better, simply integrated into a product like Google Glass? What form factor would offer the most flexibility for the widest array of activity and skills? For instance, Grasp, in its current form, might teach someone how to steer a car, but you’d need a Grasp knee brace to show the instructor the pedals.
That said, Sanghi is excited about the implications of his project from a purely academic perspective, too.
“It starts the debate on how consumer technology can be much more than just staring into combinations of aluminum and glass screens of different sizes,” he says. “What I am trying to do is create experiences using interfaces with different types of technology to learn, do or achieve something new.”