Posted on Saturday, November 5th, 2022

How to Hack Walkie Textie

Long long ago in a galaxy far far away, children’s pockets used to be full of Mars Bars, and adult’s pockets with similarly shaped (though less gooey) objects that were variously called phones, or Nokias, or (latterly, when they were going out of fashion) bricks. Despite their manifest inadequacies, many Old People recall bricks with some fondness, not least because it was possible (briefly and, alas, transiently) to walk or drive (or indeed engage in horizontal jogging) whilst simultaneously composing, writing and despatching textual missives to any of your contacts, purely by touch (gasp!).

This miracle was largely thanks to the combination of predictive text (essentially an early form of language model) with a tactile 3×4 numeric keypad, which together formed systems like T9 (Text on 9 Keys). Times, sadly, have changed. Young people have no respect. Professors don’t get brought cups of tea by their students any more. Boris Johnson is no longer the worst Prime Minister ever. But I digress: the thing is, you can’t really type without looking on a modern phone, no matter how smart its manufacturer claims it may be.

This project is to implement “eyes free” texting using a device called the unPhone, an Internet of Things development platform jointly created by COM, Pimoroni and BitFIXiT. The device supports LoRaWAN and The Things Network, and includes a predictive text system (derived from work by Mark Hepple; thanks Mark!). The task is to extend and refine the text system, hook it up to TTN messaging, and implement an identity and contacts system based on device identifiers. To replicate the tactile element of the old bricks we might also 3D print a drop-in frame (see starter models here) to augment the touch screen. (And then: we get to feel like the heroines of Attack Surface or Walkaway. Job done.)

[This event was part of Hack Sheffield 7, 5-6/11/2022.]

Cory Doctorow's HomeLand