The Community for Technology Leaders
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Issue No. 03 - July-September (2008 vol. 7)
ISSN: 1536-1268
pp: 4-5
Maria Ebling , IBM T.J. Watson Research Center
Mark Corner , University of Massachusetts Amherst
Hacked Roomba
We're still too addicted to our iRobot Roomba vacuum cleaner to risk hacking it, but there are some pretty cool hacked Roombas out there. We particularly like the cell-phone-controlled Roomba (documented at There's also now an iRobot Create (see Figure 1), which gives hobbyists the ability to continue to implement their own robotics ideas. Consider it a Roomba, minus the vacuum. The iRobot Create comes in various packages ranging from the barebones robot at US$130 to a premium development package running US$300 ( The Create comes with 30 built-in sensors and an expansion port that supports adding your own electronics. Also, the dust bin has been turned into a cargo bay with threaded holes for mounting other gizmos.

Figure 1. The iRobot Create is an inexpensive, programmable robot preassembled to help in the development of new robots.

Keyboard Backlight
The Eee PC has been making a name for itself in the highly portable category ( Its small size makes it highly mobile, so it's great—except that it's difficult to see the tiny keyboard in the dark. Or, was difficult, until now. The hackers at added a backlight to the keyboard. It takes just three hours to install and less than a US$15 investment. Sounds great? Well, there are a few caveats. First, you need to be comfortable removing keyboards, snipping wires, and soldering things back together. Second, you need to be happy with adding volume to the sleek 7-inch case; a Techno Flash luminescent wire inverter needs to sit outside the box. Third, you can definitely consider your warranty a thing of the past.
Surround Vision
The jDome ( started as a game enthusiast's dream of visual immersion in games at an accessible price. jDome is a half-spherical projection screen with a rear projection system that provides gamers with an OmniImax theater-like game experience in their home (see Figure 2). The system assumes that game movement still happens via regular input (that is, by using a mouse) and that the gamer's visual focus remains straight ahead. These assumptions help keep costs down, because only one projector is required. Still, the jDome lets gamers detect movement in their peripheral vision and changes the game experience. It's available on a limited basis to game developers for a hefty US$6,000 but is expected to be available this year for under US$200, plus the price of a projector.

Figure 2. The jDome. This system provides gamers an Omnilmax theater-like gaming experience in the home.

Wi-Fi Detector Shirt
You can tell the hackers by the clothes they wear. That is particularly true for this t-shirt. Lazy hackers, not willing to crack open their laptops or pull out their keys, can now see whether there is wireless Internet access nearby by simply looking at their shirt ( Figure 3). This battery-powered shirt displays Wi-Fi signal strength for the world to see. It's machine washable, but you must be comfortable with a small amount of disassembly. The shirt costs US$30 (

Figure 3. The Wi-Fi detector shirt. It lets the world know there's wireless Internet access nearby.

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