MIT Software Easily Stitches Together Any Display Screens Into 'Junkyard Jumbotron'

Junkyard Jumbotron

MIT Center for Future Civic Media

Is your latest photo just too great to show on a small touchscreen? Gather up all your mobile devices and old computers and stitch them together. If they can connect to the Internet, the Junkyard Jumbotron has you covered.

First go to the Junkyard Jumbotron website to get a unique URL. Point each device to it and it displays an identifier called an AR code. Then place the devices in any pattern, ensuring the AR codes are displayed. Take a picture of the arrangement and send that photo to a special email address.

By scanning the different AR codes' positions, Junkyard Jumbotron software, designed by Rick Borovoy and colleagues at MIT's Center for Future Civic Media, figures out the screens' rotations. Each device's browser tells the system how big the screen is. Then email a picture, and the system figures out how to carve up the image and display it across each screen.

It works with any display that connects to the Internet, from smartphones to old computers.

The AR code — different from the QR codes you see everywhere these days — is part of an open-source augmented reality toolkit the developers used, Borovoy said in an email. "Unlike most QR code applications, we actually care about the 3-D orientation of the codes. The AR toolkit helps us extract that information," he said.

Junkyard Jumbotron Image

MIT Center for Future Civic Media

It results in a properly oriented picture, no matter how you arrange your screens.

The whole thing is browser-based, with the Junkyard Jumbotron software running on a server at MIT. It receives real-time updates, allowing scrolling, zooming and, soon, video streaming.

Borovoy worked with a bookstore in Cambridge, Mass., to create a community display using the Junkyard Jumbotron software, showing customers reading books and sharing their book collections. He is also working with One Laptop Per Child, which brings laptops to developing countries, to create group images.

Borovoy said the technology could have several other applications, from file and photo sharing among friends and colleagues to more easily transmitting information across different platforms. It can connect several devices just by taking their picture, with the only requirement being that they can all access the Internet, he said.

He also believes the technology could turn the current insular, self-centered mobile device paradigm on its head: "(It can) demonstrate that mobile devices can support face-to-face engagement and community-building," he said. "Instead of pulling people into their own private 'cellular worlds,' these same devices can be pooled together to create a shared experience, and a shared sense of community."

The Center for Future Civic Media is exploring how technologies like the Junkyard Jumbotron could be used to create stronger community bonds, Borovoy said.