May 5, 2007 11:00 AM PDT

Making 'Minority Report' computer navigation a reality

Making 'Minority Report' computer navigation a reality
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Future PlayStations to read hand gestures

December 1, 2003
BOSTON--Remember the Minority Report scenes in which Tom Cruise and others use their hands to manipulate data on giant computer screens?

One man is on a mission to bring that gestural interface technology to every personal computer.

John Underkoffler, the founder and chief scientist of Oblong Industries, gave a talk called "Cinema, Science and Innovation" on Friday night at the Museum of Science here.

"The mouse has had a good run, but it's time to say good-bye," Underkoffler said.

His company has an operating system, based on human hand gesturing, that enables the user to explore in a 3D plane. The system responds to the pitch, roll and yaw movements that come naturally to the hand and works with cameras that track the positions of targets placed on gloves.

"We really want to get this on every desktop, and that's what we are going to focus on doing until we either go out of business or (until) the next plane trip you take, the woman sitting next to you opens up her laptop and starts doing this," said Underkoffler, gesturing with his hands.

Underkoffler was inspired by his work as the science and technology adviser to Steven Spielberg for the film Minority Report. The team created the futuristic Washington headquarters portrayed in the film. When it came to the gestural interface, the production team's research and development came just shy of actually building it, according to Underkoffler.

"What had started in an academic environment passed through the Hollywood environment and back. Which means it's just like the movie, but it really works--which is really better," he said.

Famed Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Bill Mitchell, director of the Media Lab's Smart Cities research group and Underkoffler's mentor, said he is not surprised at Underkoffler's progress.

"Of everyone I know, John has the most profound understanding of how imaginative projectionism of the future in film affects real-life expectations of the future," Mitchell said as he introduced the Oblong founder, who received his Ph.D. from MIT.

"Sometimes the filmmakers--the science fiction writers--imagine stuff before the engineers do, and there is a feedback loop between fiction and science that seems to be influencing each other," Underkoffler said.

Oblong could create applications for air traffic control or for groups visually disseminating large and complicated data sets. Microsoft has also been experimenting with gestural interface through its TouchLight technology.

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Goodbye to the mouse? For this?
Quoting: " 'The mouse has had a good run but its time to say
good-bye' said Underkoffler. "

Really? Not quite yet if your new system still requires one to put
on a glove every-time they want to pop over to the computer to
check their email.

And forget about anything that would require you to hold up
your arm for extended periods of time. How many minutes can
you hold your hand in front of a screen? Maybe with your elbow
on the desktop? Try that for 8 hours.

I'm sure his system could eventually evolve into something
practical someday, but the way it's described in the article it's
hardly ready to be replacing the mouse.
Posted by Sparky672 (244 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Give it a shot Sparky
Although I agree with you that at the moment this seems a little far fetched, but the technology is worth researching. I don't think that such a system would be practical in every household, but we can't shoot down a new idea. The digital era in which we live has remained relatively stagnant. Yes, yes, I know every new gadget is more compact, more efficient, more useful, but there hasn't been a revolutionary idea that I've seen in a long while. You never know how this product would react in the market until it is finally out there. And personally, I'd sure be willing to give this a try.
Posted by rockit111 (1 comment )
Link Flag
Technology already exists. No glove required.
Which is why I think the team that's claiming ownership of their crappy execution is pathetic. Ubiq Window (<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>) has already done a number of executions for over two years, without the need of gloves and all the rest of the BS.
Posted by shanx24 (17 comments )
Link Flag
Just read Asimov
The I Robot and Foundation series are litter with technological ideas, especially gestural control of computers.
Posted by joshuaguttman (110 comments )
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Article Out Of Date
Some computer functions can be controled by eye movements. Why raise a hand when moving an eye can to the same. I pass on taking the time of putting on a glove, if they ever make one. Sometimes I think is good only for some to fish for investment capital, like in this article.
Posted by bobbydi (51 comments )
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Moving my cursor from one corner of my screen to the opposite requires a movement of about 4 inches so I only have to move my mouse about 20-25% of the length that my cursor moves and that is justified by a variable sensitivity.

If you use your hand, you have to move the full length and your arm is extended. I can see this as being something useful on 100" panels in the future for home entertainment or business applications but this will definitely not _replace_ the mouse because it doesn't need to be replaced.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it - right?

I like the idea and I would love to play with it but please don't take my mouse from me ;).
Posted by 8ball629 (80 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Oops - meant as a reply to Sparky's comment
Posted by 8ball629 (80 comments )
Link Flag
Technology is Evolutionary
Technology is Evolutionary, not revolutionary:

You don't go from helicopters to anti-gravity, it just doesn't work like that...

Think of the mouse...

1) 1 button w/ ball

2) 2 button w/ ball

3) 3 button w/ ball

4) 2 button + scroll w/ ball

5) 2 button + scroll w/ optical

6) optical 'button' w/ optical

Meaning: My guess is soon we are going to have a little optical sensor on top of the mouse that can register finger movements...

I will not wear a glove...
Posted by SiXiam (69 comments )
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That's nice but it's not "going to be on every desktop' just like every other gimmick input device.
Posted by Blito (436 comments )
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Incorrect ownership of this idea
Other users have mentioned some academic examples of the idea. I also know of two companies that have been doing gestural navigation for at least a couple of years in commercial executions, if not more:

1. GestureTek
2. Ubiq Window

Google for both. Claiming to be the inventor of a technology that has already been out there for a while is shameful. CNET editor, please consider editing the story to leave out bits that proclaim that this is an invention of this team.
Posted by shanx24 (17 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Sounds great for gaming, but I want a foot mouse.
I would love to see games developed for this UI, however for real work I want a mouse I can point with my right foot while I click with my left.

Just think you would never have to take your hands off of the keyboard.
Posted by ralfthedog (1589 comments )
Link Flag
Research, Editorial Oversight Lacking
Others have commented on the number of stories like this one in which claims are left unchallenged. Isn't that the point of an organization like c|net? Aren't they paying people to do some research so we don't have to? How is it readers found it so easy to find examples of competing technologies and even products and c|net couldn't?

Where are the editors? Aren't they supposed to goad the writers/reporters to do research? Shouldn't they be asking questions? I know that c|net wants to post a lot of stories every day to keep people coming back, but they will only succeed in driving readers away as the readers discover what isn't offered.
Posted by c|net Reader (856 comments )
Link Flag
Technology is now
Has anyone considered the "kiosk" interface for desktop systems? There are plenty of touch screens used right now for infomation booths and photo machines.

Just develop an LCD/flat panel for touch screen apps and people could use fingers to point and click directly on the screen. This could be used in cojunction with the keyboard for data entry.

I know the screens will get icky and dirty (just don't eat cheetos when you need to use the pc)-lol.
Posted by jerrellt (17 comments )
Reply Link Flag
see also Perceptive Pixel
FastCompany ran an article about Jeff Han's Perceptive Pixel invention back in February. <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
Posted by FratkinM (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
see also Perceptive Pixel
FastCompany ran an article about Jeff Han's Perceptive Pixel invention back in February. <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
Posted by FratkinM (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Less than pertinant
Call me a massive geek if you want, I know this is very much not a pertinent fact, or not entirely related, but Minority Report is definitely not the first SciFi anything to show a gestural computer interface, there's also Earth: Final Conflict for one, which was several years pre-Minority Report, where the little shuttle pod things (haven't watched it in a while) use a gestural interface for flight and weapon controls.
Posted by sarreq (3 comments )
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