My side project is an ASCII art photo booth

No matter how much you love your work, whether you're a website builder or a creative director, it's good to have a side project to keep your creativity on its toes. We asked Jamie Kosoy about his retro side project.

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Jamie Kosoy. I run an interactive shop called Arbitrary. Most of my time is spent split between running the business and programming.

What sorts of stuff do you code?

All sorts of stuff: lots for web, but I've also coded native apps, built and managed servers, created interactive installations, written complex CMSes and even built a few robots. I'm also a designer (though not of the visual ilk), a project manager, a cheerleader and a teacher. Whew!

What is Receipt Bot?

Receipt Bot is an ASCII art photo booth that prints on receipt paper. Each bot comes with different coloured eyes – red, blue or green. You walk up to it and press the big button, and when you do, its eyes flash like crazy and it prints out your face, ASCII-fied on a receipt. We named each of them, too. The one in the photo above is Rosie.

Why did you build it?

I don't know. It seemed like a good idea at the time! Seriously, it started as a personal R&D project: I wanted to get off the screen and play with electronics. The first iteration was enclosed in a beat-up cardboard box. I enlisted some help from Matt Felsen and we just kept iterating.

What technologies did you use?

It's powered by a Raspberry Pi running openFrameworks and Python. We used the Pi camera add-on to take the photos. ASCII art photos aren't exactly hi-def, so the biggest challenge was how difficult it was to see yourself on the receipt. To compensate, we removed the background from the final photo, like a dynamic greenscreen. Pretty wild.

Where does it go from here?

We're planning on adding in a way of drawing silhouettes with dots and dashes – and also just straight-up printing the photo dot-matrix-style. This is a unique photo booth, so we keep thinking along the lines of 'filters' for it. We also want to upload the results to the web.

This article originally appeared in net magazine issue 255.

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