If you use Instagram, you know the cardinal sins: cliche sunsets, gym-clothes selfies, beer-mid-chug candids, and of course cat pics. If only there was a way to shame these people without getting your hands dirty. What if there was a robot that could do it for you?
PicNix.co is a project being launched today by Philadelphia-based ad agency Allen & Gerritsen that does just that, using an Arduino-powered robot to help you Insta-shame your friends. The idea is to create a space for criticism that falls short of a trolling comment or an "unfollow," but still lets you gently rib Insta-idiots in a timely fashion. Or instantly, you might say.
"If you don’t have a personal relationship with a user that you follow, things are easy: You just unfollow," says George Ward, senior vice president of innovation at A&G. "But with friends, it’s different and things can get awkward, so we wanted to build in the ability to remain anonymous--but to give them the heads-up."
Here's how it works: At PicNix.co, users can enter the username of somebody who is known to commit one of the 16 deadly Instagram sins listed on the site. Each offense--photos of beer, buildings, cats, food, planes and fingernails are just a few--has its own prefabbed image and user-taunting caption ready for posting. Once the transgression is selected, it's sent through A&G's database and a custom Java application, which then translates it into a signal that's readable by the hardware.
Instagram has always forbidden third-party developers from publishing photos to the service from outside apps (unlike, say, Twitter with its many third-party clients). Developers who have found creative ways around this limitation have seen their apps disabled by Instagram.
To get around this limitation, PicNix uses a dedicated iPhone running Instagram and pre-loaded with the 16 images used to signify each annoying habit--this is the brains of their "robot." As the shaming requests come in, the Java application builds out a queue of updates to make to the @PicNixer Instagram account.
But here's the rub--how do you get a phone to publish images to Instagram without having an intern sit there all day tapping the screen? That's where the actual robot limbs come into play. Using an off-the-shelf X-Y plotter, an Arduino, and some custom electronics, A&G's team built a crude robot dubbed Silent Bob that uses a modified stylus to do the posting. Depending on the Instagram sin chosen on Picnix.co, a different set of X and Y coordinates is sent to the robot, telling it which prefabbed image to select on the iPhone.
Meanwhile, a virtual, Bluetooth-connected keyboard is used to write out the caption for each image, including the username of the accused. The inclusion of their handle in the caption will trigger a push notification on their own phone, letting them know that @PicNixer said something about them. To preempt abuse, these captions can't be customized by users. Seems like a very good idea.
"As with most A&G Labs experiments, Pic Nix was meant to push our skills, creativity, and existing tech knowledge," says Ward. "There is a bit of self-promotion happening here too. While we are providing a service to help the masses, we are also looking to capture the attention of brands that might be the right dance partner for us."