Two years ago, NASA engineer Mark Rober blew YouTube's mind with a video of his Halloween costume: a hole in his chest. Or at least it looked like a hole in his chest. In fact, it was an optical illusion made possible by two iPads, a little duct tape and a lot of ingenuity. Well, you won't believe what he's been up to since then.
Since his iPad-powered "gaping hole" costume, Rober's created a whole host of futuristic Halloween costumes and is starting to explore the full possibilities of tablet and smartphone integration. Demand for Rober's expertise reached a point earlier this year that he actually decided to quit his job at NASA and pursue the costume business full-time, running a start-up called Digital Dudz. It only took Rober eight hours of selling costume kits to make back the money he'd invested in the new business, and, not long thereafter, his company was acquired by the UK-based Morph costume company.
Now that he's got some experience and capital behind him, Rober wants to continue pushing the boundaries. We spoke to him ahead of this year's Halloween about his latest project and what's to come. It sounds exciting.
"We have to be constantly innovating," Rober told Gizmodo, adding that competitors have started popping up, copying his concept. "One of the innovation is using the accelerometer. That's kind of the direction we're heading."
Indeed, Rober's big show-off costume this year is a gory get-up that makes it look like your friend's grabbing onto your innards. The trick is to get a friend to pat you on the back; then, when you thrust your chest forward, the phone's accelerometer will trigger the animation. It's a level up from last year's approach: showing-off app-based animations through holes in your clothes. Even better, whereas, last year, you'd have to duct-tape your phone to the clothing, these latest designs include a velcro pouch. The apps are also now available on Android as well as iOS devices.
These sort of set-ups are only going to get more high-tech. Rober says that the next tools he'll bring into the equation include the devices' gyroscope, the GPS chip and even near field communication (NFC) capabilities. Rober also has a couple of patents pending—one in the United States and one international—that will cover a lot of the new ideas. His idealism about the possibilities of this kind of technology is hard to miss.
"Apparel is the last frontier of tech in our lives," he said of the trend towards wearable computing which he says has always been cost-prohibitive. "I don't think this concept of a phone in a shirt is the end, but what I think it has done is bridge the gap."
When asked about specifics Rober got a little cagey. Obviously, he doesn't want his new competitors ripping off his designs before he's even gotten a chance to build them. Rober did say that he's finalized a partnership with Disney and Marvel, so expect some smartphone-powered princess and superhero costumes soon.
As for which design Rober himself chose to wear this Halloween, he said quite sheepishly, "It's like you asked me to pick a favorite child."