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Guestures as an Interface Method

June 20, 2010

Like a lot of programmers I know, my interest in code and, in a lot of ways, computers themselves, began with a love of video games.  So, it’s not surprising that I’ve been following Microsoft’s development program codenamed Project Natal – now, as of last week’s E3, renamed Microsoft Kinect.  The product is basically a collection of new technologies, including extremely sophisticated face and voice recognition, and full-body motion capture, which can be used as an interface device.  The system recognizes different users, and then each user can use gestures to control objects on-screen.

It’s interesting to see how gestures are making their way into common usage as a method for control.  It began with something as simple as shaking your iPod Shuffle to get a new playlist, but now we slide, flick, swish, hold-and-drag – not to mention moving the device itself in a multitude of ways.  And, if Microsoft is right (with a fair mention to Sony, who is working on a similar project called “Move”), all of this is only the beginning.  Or, at least that’s the theory.  I have to wonder, though, how effective all of this will be in terms of replacing conventional interface schemes.  Frankly, more often than not I’d rather just push a button than perform some gesture to get the movie playing or get something else started.  That said, as the line between my TV, computer, and entertainment systems gets narrower every day, I can think of plenty of cool uses for this type of system.  I’d love to walk into my living room and have my TV recognize that it’s me, and present me with a list of my most used channels first, rather than a couple thousand in whatever order the cable company decided to use.  Or a head-tracking 3D effect using the motion capture device, similar to this effect made using the Wii, which could dramatically enhance video games or even movies running in real-time rendering.

All of that is to say that we have taken the first few steps into a much more human-oriented world of interface devices.  Whether Kinect succeeds as a replacement for my handy X-Box controller or not, I can’t help but think that it represents a massive step forward, and I’m anxious to see how the technologies it represents will be used in the coming years.

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