When we heard about the theme of connectivity, we took the approach of connecting people. Sure, phones connect people, but they also connect us with school, business, our bosses, our daily responsibilities, and everything else, filtering out nice little messages from our families and friends that we could ignore or miss at any time. There is no technology in our lives that lets us connect with our friends and families, and only our friends and families, in real time but also in an uninterrupted manner. There is nothing that acts like a little nudge to say “hey, I’m here for you”. With this came the inspiration for Love from Afar.

What it does

Our device is a novel approach to connecting individuals wherever they might be. It is a subtle, unobtrusive reminder that a loved-one is there for you despite the distance, and it can provide comfort through real-time interaction. Specifically, it allows one to communicate using coloured lights and emoticons on an LED matrix. The key difference in this device compared to a cellular phone or an online messaging system is its ability to connect with one unique person in a modest manner.

How we built it

For the long-distance connectivity aspect, we incorporated the DragonBoard 410c so that the device had access to Google Cloud Platform’s Pub/Sub service. We then ran peripherals (such as sensors and lights) using Arduino Uno’s, which send and receive data through serial reading and writing to send and display messages to and from loved ones.

Challenges we ran into

Our first major challenge involved configuring and connecting analog inputs to the 2 Qualcomm DragonBoards despite only having one 96Boards Sensors Mezzanine shield. This was a problem as we intended to produce gradients of colors for more personalized messages. To overcome this, we hooked up an Arduino Uno, capable of analog inputs, to each dragonboard, via the USB serial port, communicating between the two devices via serial reading and writing.

Another issue was that we were unable to connect the dragonboards with UofT wifi. To solve this, we had created a wifi hotspot through one of our personal computers for both dragonboards, allowing for pushing and pulling to and from the Google Cloud Pub/Sub.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

Having never been exposed to Qualcomm DragonBoards, we took on the challenge of using the development board and are extremely proud that we were able to learn and utilize many of its functions. For instance, we successfully implemented features such as serial bus reading and writing in addition to Wifi connectivity to the Google Cloud Pub/Sub, we not only vastly expanded our technical expertise and potential, but also fully prototyped our desired idea.

What we learned

Taking a long time to brainstorm and think through our ideas is not always a weakness; it can help us develop more meaningful concepts. Websockets as a Backend as a Service is surprisingly easy to work with once you know what you’re doing. Also, Serial can be used to communicate all sort of data. We finally know what the S is USB stands for.

What's next for Love from afar

With our functional prototype showing connectivity between two devices, we would like to shift towards a wrist accessory for easy access to loved ones.

More personalized communication would require more nuanced control systems. Right now, we have mostly digital input and outputs with little variation in messages sent, but this can be improved with more sensitive sensors and output. For example, an RGB bulb that covers the entire colour spectrum.

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