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Star Wars Rogue One: what a droid can teach you about the IoT

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A long time ago, in a movie theater far far away, I experienced my first big screen encounter with a connected, smart device. Watching the dark, swashbuckling 1980 Star Wars sequel, ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, at the age of 5 not only was the first film I watched in a movie theater, but I now realize it was where my fascination with the Internet of Things began. There was holographic comm-links between Darth Vader and his mysterious boss in that giant sphere Sith office on his Star Destroyer. I thought I wanted a floating desk like that one day! There was Lando Calrissian’s head of security in Bespin, the fantastic floating city that mined exotic fuels of the future! This was my first look at a trans-humanoid person who could communicate directly with his team without speaking through technology implanted in his head. And then there was the shorter half of the bumbling, lovable droid duo who are present throughout the Star Wars trilogy. R2-D2 is the chipper, eager Astromech droid who not only fixed starships, but found his calling as the robot who could talk to machines and networks to help his human comrades. This skill was invaluable to the Rebel Alliance in ‘Empire’. R2 was connected to networks and oodles of sensors, making him a smart thing, before that was a real thing.

Droids, robots and artificial intelligence

R2 would become my favorite Star Wars character over the years in film, comics, games, toys and gadgets. I have always been fascinated with droids, robots, artificial intelligence; you name it. The possibilities boggle my science fiction addled mind. There have been many attempts to construct R2 in real life. Remote-control robot toys and even life-size Astromech builders have been capturing the imagination of fans for years but they aren’t connected or smart in the same ways that the film droids are is in the films.

Until now! Within the last year or so, Sphero has brought a new droid to life from last year’s mega blockbuster, ‘Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens’. Sphero’s BB-8 droid rolls just like he does on the movie screen and is completely accessible to kids, and gadget loving adults like me, to interact with via their smartphone using Bluetooth.

Use the force – to control your BB-8

Earlier this year, an IBMer in the UK, Joshua Carr, hacked together an ingenious way to control BB-8 with his mind. I had to do this! It is such a fantastic example of connecting things and people that we had to share it with the world. At this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, I showed fans and celebrities how to do this at the WIRED Cafe. Nerd Alert! It was literally a mind-blowing experience and loads of fun to do this with fans or “your people” as my wife says; my Star Wars people. It seems like science fiction however you too can do this with your own Sphero BB-8 toy, Raspberry Pi credit card sized computer, Emotiv headgear wearable (detects brain waves), Node.js, Python and Node-RED running on the cloud. There is now an IoT Recipe to help get you started with Watson using voice control or your mind.

Sphero recently came out with the Sphero Force Band.  It’s a wearable based on Star Wars that can detect hand gestures, like when you pretend to use the Force! It is designed to help control toy robots, but just last month, they added integration with IFTTT (If This Than That). That means it can now use 3 separate gestures (Force push, pull, and stop) to trigger IoT devices.  You can control anything or any service that works with IFTTT just by using the Force! Here is a quick video demonstration using the Force band created by IBM’s VP of Consumer IoT, Bret Greenstein. This shows Bret controlling the lights in his home office with just the Force (or at least using a Force gesture). Like many Star Wars fans, this is something I could never imagine doing growing up.  Now anyone can do it with a toy wrist band and a powerful, free cloud service.

Gesture control to become commonplace

The implications of this are much bigger than a toy or movie. The ability to use gestures to control things will be available through wearables and hundreds of things. At IFA in Berlin, IBM showed how our IoT platform can work with Nokia’s Withings products to help with elder care in a project called Aging in Place. Imagine being able to use gestures to control the temperature or lighting, avoiding the need to use mobile apps, ask for help, or get up to change settings. It’s amazing to think about what you can do expanding on this with Watson IoT Platform.

Today is the day fans are heading to the theater to see a new film, ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’, released 36 years after I saw The Empire Strikes Back. The story is set 34 years before events in The Force Awakens with BB-8 and roughly two decades after the Emperor seized power in Episode III forming the Imperial Empire. Once again there is a droid at the center of the action. K2SO (pronounced Kay-tuesso) is an Imperial security droid that has been reprogrammed, sorta like the BB-8 toy above, to help the Rebel Alliance with the harrowing mission to steal the blueprints to the new Death Star space station weapon. This continues an incredible Star Wars tradition of pairing a ragtag group of rebel heroes with a droid to save the world using using the right tricks, sensors, hacks, and augmented intelligence. It’s a science fiction based internet of things! Let me know what you think about the movie premiere and the possibilities of what you can do with Watson and IoT to change the way you live, work and play.

May the Force be with you!

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