Friday, June 18, 2010

A nice gesture

I wrote a while back about how there was some biffo going on between Apple and other companies over the use of "gestures" such as "pinching" and "stretching" on the iPad/iPod/iPhone touch-screens. Apple consider this their exclusive patented intellectual property and are keen to stop others from infringing it.

However, if the gear demonstrated at the recent E3 game symposium in the USA is any indicator, Apple's technology is already "so last year" and things are changing in the world of man/machine interface at an ever-increasing pace.

The big news was the Microsoft Kinect system, a powerful new interaction technique that actually relies on non-contact gestures to instruct a computer (in this case a games console) what to do.

Using a camera and some smart software, the Kinect system watches the player and converts not only their hand and arm gestures but even entire body movements into commands. Clearly this is great for gaming but it's already being touted as a "Minority Report" style interface for other IT applications.

The only problem being reported so far is that it doesn't work very well (or even at all) if you try to use it while sitting down in front of the screen. Apparently it currently relies on sensing the entire outline of a human figure in order to identify the various motions which are then converted to commands. Microsoft are said to be working on an enhancement to the software that will overcome this shortcoming.

So where to now for Kinect?

Will we see the cameras on our mobile phones being used to interpret gestures so that, in order to create email, select phone-numbers or perform other operations, we don't even have to touch the screen?

Will laptops recognize the frown on our faces when we make a mistake and automatically activate the "undo" function to restore a smile?

I guess that at this stage, nobody knows for sure -- but the incredibly short span of time has passed between the appearance of body-gesturing as science-fiction in Minority Report and the arival of Kinect hints that there may be even more exciting ways to interact with your computer, just around the corner.

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