A High-Tech Halloween

Tablets, apps, and sensors add special effects to the holiday

30 October 2013

Image: Texas Instruments

Each year on 31 October kids all across the United States dress up as their favorite ghoul or goblin and knock on doors for candy. While the idea of the holiday is to get a good fright, personal technology like tablets and apps can take the fear factor up a few notches by making costumes come alive and turning ordinary homes into haunted houses.

For example, on Halloween 2011, former NASA engineer Mark Rober tried an experiment that eventually led to a high-tech costume idea. He cut a large hole in the front and back of his sweatshirt and secured iPads on the inside so that one screen faced people coming at him from the front, and another faced those from the back. He then linked the two devices using FaceTime, an application that allows others to see what the iPad’s camera viewfinder picks up. By doing so, he created the illusion that people could see right through his body. When looking at his chest, you instead see the refrigerator behind him. This video of his “costume” got nearly four million views.

The idea took off. Rober left his job, where for seven years he helped design the Curiosity rover. He teamed up with a British costume company that makes what are called Morphsuits. To fully develop these wearable tech costumes, Rober created an app that adds special effects. For example, when wearing the Morph Monster costume, one could turn on the app and place a smartphone inside the built-in pocket so that every time the wearer is slapped on the back, the screen would make it appear as if the intestines were being ripped out.

Rober tells Wired that by using a mobile device’s many features, including the accelerometer, Bluetooth, and communication tools, there are tons of interactive concepts that can be developed.

And if the costumes weren’t scary enough, walking to someone’s front door on Halloween has also become more terrifying. Texas Instruments recently posted on its blog about how Internet of Things can wirelessly connect decorations in the yard to interact with passersby. A zombie or evil pumpkin, for example, could be plugged into a system of sensors that connects to a wireless network just like a laptop. The homeowner can then download an app that controls the sensors, and with a single click on a tablet or smartphone could light up the object or enable it to jump out at a trick-or-treater. LED bulbs could also be set up to the wireless system and, using the ZigBee app, light up the yard with a spectrum of 16 million colors. (Yes, you read that number right.)

Homeowners could also wirelessly stream sounds—like screaming or suspenseful music—from their personal device to an outdoor speaker. To get a visual of what one can do with just a few decorations, wireless sensors, and an app, watch the video below.

What are some creative ways you’ve used technology to entertain during a holiday?

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