Alive and trapped deep inside each and every one of our computers is a character. A character that we cannot see, hear, feel or touch but is nonetheless present to mediate each and every one of our interactions through computers. This character is named Otar. And we have decided to set him free.

For our intro to physical computing final project this semester, Alex Abreu, Amit Snyderman and I decided to make a physical toy that you could play with and use communicate with your friends over facebook. What we ended up with is a narrative communication toy named Otar. If you read on you can learn more about what that means, and the process that went into this creature's creation.

Otar is a fuzzy, squeeze toy that connects to your computer's usb port. When you squeeze, Otar's stories come alive in a desktop widget. (* a screen shot of this is on left.) When you squeeze Otar, you flip through these stories, pick one you like, caption it, and then send it to a friend on facebook. Now, on both your and your friend's profile, you share an Otar flipbook. A story that you have started to build, using Otar's images as a language.

Language is imprecise, vague, imperfect and open to interpretation. Different communication tools have different languages associated with them. Otar is a tool that thrives on imprecise communication, and using narrative to understand and explain our relationships and each other.

Where does the name Otar come from?
Sometimes fun things come from not so fun places. The name Otar comes from the word teratoma. (an integral part of our brainstorming process…I will leave googling the term up to you…and I apologize if you are offended). Otar is your computer's teratoma. We took him out, gave him a name and a story.

The most interesting part about this project for me was creating a system that extends all boundaries of language, age, class, literacy level... As long as you can squeeze, you can play with Otar. This simple, easy to use modular system is extensible to a myriad of possibilities for implementation.

some of the technical behind the Otar
Building Otar involved building and figuring out a bunch of separate technical components and then eventually putting them all together. The front end code is written in Java, the back end is written in Rails, both speak to the facebook API. We use the RXTXcomm with gnu.io to talk to the serial port through Java. A pressure sensor and pump is embedded within Otar to transmit serial data to the arduino(a temporary prototyping solution...eventually to be moved onto a smaller chip). We do the majority of our serial processing off the chip and within Java. The entire squeeze range from resting to max-1 squeeze is mapped over a series of 10 frames of Otar's images. A max squeeze, you will send you to a new, set of 10 sequential frames.

We wanted to make Otar's two (desktop/facebook) GUI's as small as possible. And we had endless deliberations about every pixel that went into each component. Mouse send button? or just enter key? Alex did an amazing job of figuring out how to use, and work with all of the GUI components,and figuring out the poorly documented java facebook api...especially for desktop applications (of which there are very few). Amit is our backend rails and other fun surprises guru, including the hilarious and often dark and twisted images. All are open to your own interpretation of course!

Humans use their bodies to communicate.
Otar is fun. Otar likes to tell stories. Otar likes to share. Otar is not human, but contains human parts. Learn his stories, take parts of them and use them as a tool to rebuild stories of your own.

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