If you see what appears at first glance to be a short version of Robocop stumbling through the streets of Tokyo, worry not folks it will likely be Eric Siu or one of his friends using Touchy. The wearer of the head-mounted camera is effectively in darkness until someone touches him, at which point the automated shutters blinding the wearer open briefly and he can once again view the world around him. If the person maintains touch for ten seconds or more, the built-in camera snaps an image and then displays it on a small screen to the rear of the helmet.

Touchy is described by Hong Kong new media artist Siu as being a social interaction experiment aimed at criticizing the Hikikomori and Otaku social isolation cultures in Japan. It has been in development for about two years in collaboration with Tomohiko Hayakawa and Carson Reynolds at the Ishikawa Oku Laboratory of the University of Tokyo, and is still a work in progress.

"The project adopted the culture of still photo taking, not video recording," said Siu when Gizmag asked why the camera took stills only. "I see the camera as a social device, and the project turns a human into a camera as a suggestion for social healing. To me, a camera has better social capability than a camcorder, since a camera records a particular memorable moment instead of a flow of time. In a group photo, we stand still to wait for the moment to appear, a moment that we are connected in the photograph."

Siu told us that the helmet has a hacked webcam to the front that feeds a 2-megapixel CMOS sensor, producing stills at either 640 x 480 or 1600 x 1200 pixels in JPG format. The storage of snapped images and subsequent display on Touchy's 3.5-inch, 320×240 pixel LCD touchscreen display – on the back of the 6.4 x 8.1 x 9.4-inch (163 x 208 x 239 mm), 2.5-pound (1.17-kg) helmet – are processed using Gumstix hardware.

Details of exactly how the touch sensor actually works are being held back until perfected, but Reynolds told us that the custom-created TouchSwitch "takes advantage of bioelectric phenomena that is observable when two people touch."

"The underlying principle is to treat the skin like an antenna which detects the contact made by the encounter of other humans," he explained. "When Touchy is worn on the head, a portable device built into the helmet constantly observes the skin for signs of human touch. Contact of any variety works: hand shakes, hugs, punches, accidental collisions, high-fives, caresses, nudges, hand-holding, and so forth. TouchSwitch uses an electrical model that does not require a ground reference voltage, and this differentiates it from off-the-shelf touch sensors."

The wearer is not able to activate the shutters by his own touch. The shutters in front of the wearer's eyes are controlled by an Arduino board and opened and closed using a pair of step motors. The onboard battery will power Touchy for around two hours.

Source: Eric Siu