A deejay in the Netherlands uses his to mix techno music at dance parties. A medical student in Italy has reprogrammed his to help analyse the results of CT scans. And a Los Angeles software engineer has found a way to get his to help vacuum the floor. The high-tech device in each case: the remote control from a $250 videogame console.
Since Nintendo Co.’s Wii landed in stores in November, it has become one of the game industry’s biggest hits, selling more than two million consoles in the US. Many stores can’t keep the console in stock, and it fetches nearly twice its retail price on eBay. One of the major drivers of the Wii’s popularity is its remote control, which fans call the Wii-mote. Unlike past remotes, it is motion sensitive and can detect when a player
waves it to one side or tilts it forward or back.
Out of the ordinary: The Nintendo’s Wii remote control device has been hacked for bizarre purpose
The Wii-mote is becoming a cult object for hackers, with gadget geeks re-engineering the device to do all sorts of things having nothing to do with playing videogames. To repurpose the Wii-mote, they download free software from one of a number of websites and then tweak that code to assign a specific command to each movement of the device. In the end, the remote takes the place of a computer mouse or keyboard. Waving the Wii-mote sends a message wirelessly to the computer, which then communicates with whatever object the hacker is trying to control.
Software engineer Chris Hughes has tinkered with almost everything in his Los Angeles home, from adding more storage capacity to his TiVo digital video recorder to changing the combination on the keyless entry to his Ford Explorer. When a friend at a Christmas party suggested he find a way to get his Wii-mote to control his Roomba robot vacuum cleaner, Hughes worked through the night tailoring the software code.
He sent a video of the results to his girlfriend and posted a demonstration on YouTube. It shows the sleepy Hughes tilting his white remote up and down to make the Roomba go back and forth, and then turning it over to get the vacuum cleaner to spin circles in his living room.
The Wii-mote, which is about the size of a large candy bar, communicates with the on-screen cursor via an infrared beam. But what has most captivated hackers is a mechanism inside the Wii-mote called an accelerometer that can detect its speed and direction of motion. It is the accelerometer, made by Analog Devices Inc., in Norwood, Mass., that allows Wii players to use their remotes to act out whatever game they’re playing.
Tim Groeneboom, who lives in the Netherlands, uses his Wii-mote to spice up his deejay act. He was inspired by a video on the Web of a California music student bobbing in front of the computer in his room and making jabbing motions with the Wii-mote to splice different tracks. During his second gig with the Wii-mote, Groeneboom, 22, says he was able to roam up to about 100ft from his deejay booth and still be able to control how the music blended and do some sound effects.
Aaron Rasmussen has a sporting purpose for his Wii-mote. At his Garden Grove, Calif. software company, USMechatronics, he and his partner stuck a tennis racket in the “hand” of a $40,000 industrial robot and then tweaked the Wii-mote to control the robot’s arm so it can hit back tennis balls on the factory floor. “This is what we do to relax,” he says.
Some people are using their remotes to play Laser Tag—where players shoot one another with infrared light beams—while others are using them to strum a virtual guitar. Several websites, like Wiihacks.blogspot.com and WiiLi.org, have sprouted up for hackers to trade tips on repurposing Wii-motes. Because Nintendo sells the Wii-mote separately for $40, hackers don’t even need to buy the console.
Nintendo says it is surprised by efforts to reprogram the Wii-mote and discourages the practice. “The Wii Remote was created to play on the Wii system only,” says Anka Dolecki, spokeswoman for Nintendo.
Some companies see possible business applications with the Wii-mote. Rick Bullotta, vice-president of SAP Research, an arm of the German software giant SAP AG, is looking at ways to integrate the Wii-mote into their clients’ manufacturing operations. He envisions factory and warehouse employees walking through facilities pointing and waving Wii-motes to monitor and control machines. “It’s the first time we’ve used a videogame controller for R&D,” he says.
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