Ian Cleary

Use the Force: Luke Vs. Wampa

You are Luke Skywalker and must use the power of your mind to retrieve your lightsaber.


Introduction to Physical Computing

This project attempts to recreate the well-known scene the from Empire Strikes Back in which Luke Skywalker is trapped - hanging upside down - in the Wampa's cave on the ice planet of Hoth. The User takes on the role of Luke and interacts with both the film and the world around them.

To begin, users will don a headset, which is part of the "Mindflex" game system. The Mindflex is a very rudimentary EEG machine that reads electricity generated by the brain. The Mindflex can tell when a person wearing its headset is concentrating.

The User will then watch approximately 50 seconds of video - the aforementioned scenes from Empire Strikes Back. A clip can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JYzMtuNLmXc. This sets up the premise.

At approximately 1:18 of that clip - the point at which Luke absolutely must free his lightsaber - the video will pause and instructions on the screen will direct the user to focus all of their attention on a "real" lightsaber that is hanging just out of reach in front of them.

The user will have one minute to focus their concentration on the lightsaber. If they do so sufficiently (as determined by a threshold set in a Processing sketch that is connected to the EEG reader), the lightsaber will be released and fall down to the User. This release will be made possible by use of a single servo motor that is also tied to the Processing sketch via an Arduino.

So, if the User "uses the Force" they get the lightsaber; additionally, the video will keep playing, showing Luke Skywalker escaping the ice cave. However, if the user does not achieve the set threshold of attention within one minute, the lightsaber will not fall to them, and the video will instead play a clip of the Wampa eating Luke.

The goal is to use some basic components of Processing and Physical Computing - along with a hacked version of the new Mindflex device - to allow any Star Wars fan to live the dream of being able to control the physical world with their mind.

The idea for the project came into my head almost fully formed after seeing some classmates hack into the Mindflex machine and get information about brain activity into Processing for less than $100. Most of the research here was in two areas a) determining a threshold of concentration that was just inside the average person's ability, in order to make the experience both challenging and fun; this required a lot of user testing and recording readings from the Mindflex b) finding the best scene in the Star Wars series to bring this project to life. This required watching a lot of clips from one of my favorite movies of all time.

Star Wars fans of any age.

User Scenario
Described above in Thesis. In an ideal scenario, the user would struggle slightly to trigger the lightsaber release mechanism, succeeding at the last possible moment. After a heart-pounding minute of concentration, the lightsaber "magically" falls into their hand and the video roars to life showing Luke Skywalker slashing the Wampa's arm off. The user should feel like they ARE Luke Skywalker.

There are four components: Computer running Processing, a servo motor connected to that Computer via Arduino, a hacked Mindflex machine that is also connected to the computer via Arduino, the Mindflex headset which talks to the Mindflex machine wirelessly.

I learned about cutting video in Final Cut, jumping around in a video using Processing, how much weight a servo motor will hold, and that levels of concentration (at least as measured by Mindflex) can vary significantly and rapidly. The Mindflex isn't broken, but it likely won't ever be used for its original purpose again.