Maker: HARDWARE HACKER
I RECENTLY ASKED KYLE MACHULIS A FEW DIRECT QUESTIONS:
Gary Wolf: Why hack game controllers?
Kyle Machulis: Most people think of these
as just controls for video games, but when
you unlock the technology to be used on
non-game platforms, people find new and
interesting uses for them.
GW: What is your favorite hack?
KM: One of my favorite projects was
writing software that allows open programming of the Novint Falcon haptic device
home.novint.com). It’s a controller that
basically allows you to feel forces in 3D, so
guns kick back in a player’s hand, they can
feel textures on the surfaces of objects,
things like that.
The Novint Falcon is a $250 version of
a $30,000 research controller. Writing the
drivers for it took more than just figuring
out the USB protocol. There’s also a ton
of pretty difficult math wrapped up in
figuring out the position of the end effector (the part of the controller you hold).
It took collaboration with academics in a
few different countries to get something
usable, but it’s now used in everything
from molecular biology research to open
source wisdom tooth removal simulation
And most people don’t really think of
touch outside of “multi-touch” or “
vibration,” so having a new kind of feedback
really makes their heads explode.
GW: By day, you work at Mozilla as a hardware engineer. What do you do there?
KM: I’m working on a completely open
source, web-standards-based mobile
operating system project called “Boot To
Gecko.” We’re building a system that allows
the phone to boot directly into a web
browser. Basically, it’s my job to make
GW: That means no App Store, no End
User License Agreements for mobile software, open systems on the phone, right?
KM: It means that the phone moves in
whatever direction the web does, instead
of whatever direction the API that the company that makes the OS does. Think of all
the trouble we have getting devices to talk
to our phones. This means that as soon as
there is a driver to get data from a device
onto a web page, it should work on a phone
GW: Why hack hardware in particular?
KM: My career after college started in
educational robotics. I learned that there’s
a lot of hardware out there that people
want to do things with but don’t have the
access they need, so I provide that. But
I like both hardware and software equally.
What I want is to have access to and know
the whole stack, from the electron to the
GW: Let me ask you a Quantified Self
question. What personal data tools have
you been hacking?
KM: Mainly consumer hardware: Fitbit,
NeuroSky and Emotiv EEGs, Omron blood
pressure monitors, whatever else I can
get my hands on.
GW: What’s the main barrier to opening
these up? Lack of software drivers?
KM: Depends on what you want to open.
There are two levels: getting a single user’s
data, and getting everyone’s data. Getting
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