[FoRK] Commercial version of Dourish's hacked Barney

Ken Meltsner meltsner
Thu Nov 17 07:07:31 PST 2005

Several years ago, PARC's Paul Dourish (now at the center of
FoRK-based computer science, UCIrvine) hacked a Microsoft-driven
Barney doll and turned it into a remotely controlled network
peripheral (SWEETPEA [1]).  CHI paper reviewers were split as to
whether the effort constituted "real" research, or was just a good

A French company is now selling a simpler (but commercial) version:


" I'm a newborn bunny, one of a unique species of intelligent, smart
objects. I'm 23 cm tall, I wriggle my ears, I sing, I talk and my body
lights up and pulsates with hundreds of colours. Thanks to Wi-Fi
technology, I'm always connected to the Internet."

See also the cool folks at Ambient Technology[2], which sells
pager-controlled "orbs" and analog dashboard dials.


[1] Software Tools for Programmable Embodied Agents:

[2] http://www.ambientdevices.com [not responding right now -- must be
a bit too ambient out)
http://www.thinkgeek.com/gadgets/electronic/5da2/ The original Orb
http://www.thinkgeek.com/gadgets/electronic/767e/ Weather display version
http://www.thinkgeek.com/gadgets/electronic/732d/ Pre-production
analog meter version


"...Microsoft Barney is a plush purple dinosar that can talk, sing,
and play games. Barney can also be controlled by an RF device that
plugs into your television set or PC and can pick up instructions
striped on the TV signal or encoded in the software to control the
child's toy. In many ways, Barney offers even more potential that
Barbie since Barney also has input sensors (in his paws and a
light-sensor behind his eyes) and can move his limbs.

"... With a couple of Barney dolls, a PC, a pile of Barney
applications and a smart student intern, we set about experimentally
determining the protocol by which Barney was controlled. By the end of
the summer, after much work, we had a student who could sing all the
Barney songs backwards, and a pile of software.

"The end result is the 'Barney Protocol Stack,' a set of software
components that applications can use to drive Barney. The basic Barney
control mechanism is implemented as a Delphi component. It can be
driven directly via an on-screen control panel, to move Barney around,
play sound samples or read his sensors. Alternatively, it can listen
on a network socket for remote control connections. The remote
interface allows applications to be written that talk to a remote
Barney server; you can telnet to Barney (which is more than I can do
to my NT box). This network protocol level is wrapped up by a Java
class called BarneyConnection, which offers facilities to move
Barney's arms and legs and register to be informed when his sensors
are activated.

"Using the Barney Protocol Stack, we built a number of applications
for Barney. Some were simply feedback applications, that would tell
you the progess of activities such as printing your document. Some
were monitoring applications that revealed the state of other systems,
such as the current network status. Some were communicative
applications, such as one which allowed two people to communicate
through 'Barney semaphore...'"

Absolute power corrupts absolutely, but model train sets do a pretty
good job as well

-- 2/28/05, in a odd dream

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