Sunday, January 13, 2013

Kitchen monitoring with a Robot?

In my Kitchen monitor adventures (a long going project to keep watch on an elderly person's stove activities), I keep running into privacy issues.

If you remember, my project has evolved to using a wireless camera (and image recognition) to keep an eye on kitchen occupancy and stove usage.  The idea is to notify someone if the stove has been left unattended (no one in the kitchen) for some critical amount of time.  I need a combination of temperature and motion sensing.  The camera would keep track of motion (a little more sophisticated than a simple yes/no motion detector) and a temperature probe would keep track of stove usage.

On privacy concern is actually security:  The system would be comprised of wireless nodes communicating to a base station. There are many ways to jam signals (both on purpose and as happenstance) and if I don't authenticate the data it could be spoofed (pranksters).

The other privacy concern is more personal. I installed a wireless camera in my kitchen and it started to creep people out. Is that thing on?  Are you taking my picture?  Is video being beamed over the internet?

There is indeed something creepy about being monitored by a camera.  Even if I offered promises that the images were "just" for computer analysis and a human doesn't see them (..starting to sound like TSA here...), family members weren't convinced.  Mount the camera on a rotating turret and suddenly it becomes downright ominous.

So, I started to think more about personal privacy.  I had no intent of sending "snapshots" to anyone. The camera was just to be used as a more sophisticated sensor.  What if I mounted those sensors in a robot?  That is, what if the housing was more robot-like than camera like?

This isn't about hiding the camera. There is something subtly more comforting to being watched by a self contained "thing" (be it a cat, dog or maybe even -- robot).

This wouldn't be a mobile robot.  Why does every robot have to move around?  What if this one was the size of a toaster, could be placed on the table or maybe a counter top with a view of most of the kitchen?  Yes, it would have to rotate it's "head" to see everything (versus a camera mounted in a corner near the ceiling).  What if I put the whole computer into the robot and so it becomes completely self contained. No radio between it and the sensors. Maybe wi-fi "just" for communicating serious events (e.g. the kitchen is on fire).

Are we ready for kitchen robots?

Oh, and I am starting to play with a MLX90614  Infra-red thermometer to see if I can do the stove monitoring from a distance (the robot itself).

Stay tuned.

Saturday, January 05, 2013


Every year or so I brush off my dusty Perl interpreter and mess a bit with AFT. I am not sure how relevant the system is these days. I still use it once in a while (I still resist using word processors).

I've been thinking about writing an AFT config/rule file to generate EPUB or MOBI formats for e-readers.  I don't have a tablet or e-reader myself (yet -- ever?), but this looks like a useful exercise.  I've also been thinking about standing up an online version of AFT where you can submit your files (or type them in) and generate HTML, PDF or EPUB/MOBI.

So much copious free time...yeah, right.