Video: Wobbl is an Arduino-powered conversation table


This project encourages you to put down that phone and enjoy the presence of someone else.


While we may not yet have flying cars, one thing that Back to the Future II foresee was the fact that one day, we’d all be consumed with technology at the dinner table. It seems that in our constantly-connected world, we’re in front of some sort of screen 24/7. Admit it, at one point or another, you have been so immersed in your phone that you’ve failed to acknowledge the person sitting across from you at the table — albeit a friend, family member or significant other. Well, in an effort to spur engagement between two people, a team of Carnegie Mellon University students have developed what they call a conversation table. 

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Powered by an Arduino Uno (ATmega328), Wobbl is a conceptual approach to how an environment can respond to your decisions with polite commentary. How it works is relatively simple. Users set specific conversation time, say over dinner. If and when someone picks up their smartphone in that timeframe, it will cause the other person’s end of the table to wobble, and vice versa.

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The Conversation Table uses analog infrared distance sensors that are capable of recognizing when a phone is in its designated slot. This will then trigger either side of the table to shake via two medium-sized continuous rotation servos. These motors drive a bolt into a nut inside of a stationary leg, thereby creating a makeshift linear actuator. The table itself is constructed out of laster-cut and hand-stained plywood.

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“Sometimes, we want to have a conversation with someone that isn’t about reading facts off of Wikipedia, or checking to see what time movies are playing on a theater’s mobile site. Sometimes we just want to talk to the person across from us about them, rather than hear about the person they were texting or be so distracted from your own phone you miss out on what the person is saying. We also want to know that they’re engaged with us whether we’re talking or listening,” the team writes.

Interested in learning more? Head over to the team’s official project page here.

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