Ghost Hunters Turn To Robots To Help Them Track Down Spooks
From the use of reel-to-reel tape recorders to the latest technological gadgets, ghost hunters are always on the lookout for new ways to detect the presence of spirits. One such tool that is currently gaining popularity among paranormal investigators is an 18cm-tall toy robot.
Released by WowWee in 2014, it's called MiP, which stands for "Mobile Inverted Pendulum," because it balances like a Segway on two big wheels. The friendly little robot responds to the movements of your hand. It's this gesture recognition technology that has caught the attention of paranormal investigators, who believe that the invisible movements of ghosts can be detected by the robot's sensors.
The awareness about MiP's alternative use in ghost hunting was recently raised by the paranormal reality TV show 'Help! My House Is Haunted'. The show's technical expert Barri Ghai uses one of the robots on the investigations. Barri has named his robot Brian, and he believes that its gesture recognition technology has produced some credible evidence.
The way MiP is used is to place it on a flat floor in an area where they suspect paranormal activity and monitoring its movements from a safe distance. Ghost hunters may attempt to call out to any spirits that might be present to encourage them to move the toy through hand movements.
MiP can also be left alone in a haunted location and will move if triggered. This makes it an excellent tool for ghost hunters who want to monitor a particular area without having to be present. Additionally, because the robot is a toy, it might serve as a trigger object for child spirits in particular. Although how a child from the 17th century might perceive such a futuristic toy is open to debate.
The robot uses infrared (IR) sensor technology to detect gestures. It does this by emitting IR light through its eyes and "looks" for a reflection through a sensor in its head. Depending on the strength of the reflected light, the sensor will know how far or close an object is. The stronger the reflected signal, the closer the object. This help the robot identify gestures.
Because MiP's IR sensor is based on reflection, it can see highly reflective surfaces, such as white walls or mirrors more easily and from greater distances than matte or black surfaces. The problem with "seeing" a ghost's gesture is that these are movements invisible to the human eye, which means that by their very nature they do not reflect light. If these ghostly hands reflected light, then there would be visible.
Could it be that ghosts reflect IR light but not visible light? Yes, this is a possibility. There's no known mechanic that would allow for this, but it's not totally outside of the realm of possibility. There are some materials that do reflect IR while letting visible light pass through them, essentially rendering them invisible. Thin films of metals, a few atoms thick, are an example of a material that can do this. These films are commonly used as a thermal window covering in very hot places.
If ghosts are composed of a material with properties such as this, then this could explain why MiP's IR sensors can detect their movement, but the ghost isn't visible to the human eye. However, there's one further complication here. If ghosts are visible to MiP, then we're essentially saying that ghosts are visible in IR light. This means, that a night vision camera pointed at the robot should also be able to see the ghost interacting with it. This is because night vision cameras also work on the principle of emitting and detecting infrared light.
What the MiP robot might have in common with other ghost hunting gadgets is it susceptibility to give false positives. Devices like REM-Pods and EMF meters, for example, are often triggered by electronic devices around them.
This is partly true of MiP. When left in the middle of a room for an extended period, it does spin around very frequently as if unseen hands are causing it to rotate. This is only ever small clockwise or anticlockwise turns rather than sustained spinning motions. These movements usually occur if there is any movement from people in the room, no matter how small, but they do sometimes occur without any obvious cause. So, it safe to assume that the robot rotating isn't the result of ghostly goings on.
Where the robot seems to be particularly robust is in its forward and backward movement. Although its erratic spinning can't be trusted as a sign of paranormal activity, the robot doesn't move a great deal when it shouldn't. In order to maintain its balance, it does slowly rock back and forth and might occasionally move five to 10 cm, but it pretty much stays where it is placed unless gestured to move.
This is a good starting point for its potential use on a ghost hunt, but means that small movements, especially rotating should be disregarded. Instead, focus on significant forward or backward movements only, somewhere in the range of at least 20 to 30 cm.
A bigger problem than unwanted movement might be the fact it's hard to make the robot move. It's actually quite challenging to control the robot through gestures, even for a living human. If a physical person has difficulty controlling it, it's hard to expect a ghost to do any better.
However, it may be the case that children may have an easier time controlling the robot through gestures, as it is designed specifically for kids to interact with. This again backs up its potential use as a trigger object for child spirits.
Even if gesture control doesn't work too well, MiP also has IR-based collision detection technology. This means that if anyone or anything gets too close to the robot, it will back away, making it easier for spirits to interact with it. Again, this requires that whatever is getting close to the robot is capable of reflecting IR light.
There are a few limitations that ghost hunters should be aware of before using the MiP robot on their investigations. The robot can only detect gestures directly in front of its IR sensor, located above its eyes. It cannot detect hand gestures from the side or from behind.
If the sensor becomes dirty or covered then this may lead to false positives and unwanted movements. Before each investigation ensure that nothing is covering the sensor and make sure it is clean. Clean the sensors with a clean cloth and a light application of rubbing alcohol on the cloth.
After 10 minutes without any interaction, the robot will automatically turn off. Because the robot balances on two wheels, being powered down does look a little dramatic as it causes the robot to fall backwards. This unexpected tumble might be mistaken for a ghost pushing the toy over, but you will know it's not a paranormal occurrence because it will say "uh-oh, sleepy" and its chest LED panel will flash white three times. Of course, the other tell-tale sign is that the power switch will still be in the on position, indicating that the power hasn't in fact been turned off.
Another really important thing to be aware of is that MiP is susceptible to misinterpreting the IR lights used on night vision cameras, the type which are often used to film ghost hunts. So if you're using a MiP robot during an investigation, be sure not to use any infrared night vision cameras near it. Remember, IR light is invisible, so even if you think you might not be affecting the robot with the light from your camera, it could be reflecting unpredictably and moving in such a way that MiP mistakes it for a gesture. Even if you are using a camera in an adjoining room, it could still be possible that the IR light is shining through a crack in the door and causing the robot to move.
It may not be so problematic if you're using static night vision cameras which are fixed in position with the IR illuminator constantly turned on. So long as the light is static and unmoving, then the MiP shouldn't mistake this for movement. It's still wise to ensure that nothing else is moving in the room, especially anything shiny or reflective that might cause the IR light to move around and trigger the robot. This could be anything from a glossy door swinging back and forth to a reflective glass ornament blowing in a breeze.
If you keep these possible misinterpretations for the movements of MiP in mind and do all you can to avoid unintentional triggering, then the robot is a tool worthy of investigation on a ghost hunt.
To make the most of the robot, it's best to use it in a sealed and isolated room where there is no movement of people or objects that might trigger the robot. The best option is to use the robot in a fully lit room and avoid using IR light that might potentially discredit the experiment all together. Ideally you should watch on from a fully concealed location or via a video feed.
Only significant and sustained movements should be considered potential proof of paranormal interference, especially movements which are in response to direct requests for movement and are clearly different to the robot's normal habit of turning on the spot and wobbling back and forward.
MiP is a fairly costly tool, it'll set you back around £80, perhaps even more if you purchase from a specialist ghost hunting equipment store, which may add their own markup. Because MiP has been floating around as a toy since 2014, at which time it was fairly sought after, lookout for bargains on eBay. We managed to pick one up for £6.99 in order to test it for this feature.
We'll be taking MiP out in to the field in the coming months to see how he performs in an allegedly haunted location.
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