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."