Motion control, other innovative interfaces inch closer to reality

Motion control, other innovative interfaces inch closer to reality

Summary: The touch interface is only just beginning to make the leap to PCs. But the industry is already working on other, more novel, ways to interact with computers and mobile devices.

TOPICS: Laptops

The touch interface is only just beginning to make the transition from smartphones and tablets to PCs, thanks in part to Windows 8. But the industry is already working on other ways to interact with computers and mobile devices. Just as the popularity of smartphones and tablets paved the way for touch on PCs, the successful introduction of motion controls on game consoles — the Nintendo Wii, Microsoft Kinect, and Sony PlayStation Move — has created an opportunity for more novel user interfaces.


Perhaps the most interesting — and most hyped — is the Leap Motion Controller. The company announced this week that the USB device, which adds motion controls to computers, will be available starting in May for $80. Leap Motion said the device, which is about the size of a flash drive, is significantly more accurate than a game console's motion controller. It works with Windows 7 and Windows 8 PCs and Macs, but it seems like a natural fit for the modern Windows 8 interface. No new technology can launch without its own app store, and Leap has one called Airspace. The company is already developing motion-controlled apps with several partners, including Autodesk, Corel (Painter), Disney Interactive, Double Fine Studios (Dischord, a music game), The Weather Channel, and ZeptoLab (Cut the Rope). The Leap Motion Controller has gotten some positive early feedback and I'm looking forward to trying it out.

At Mobile World Congress (MWC) this week, there were many demonstrations of new user interfaces. Intel posted a YouTube video showing some of its own demonstrations using motion control, and voice and facial recognition. SoftKinetic, a Belgium-based company that developed a 3D DepthSense camera for laptops and motion-control software, said it provided the technology behind not only Intel's Perceptual Computing demonstrations, but also smart TV demonstrations from YOUi Labs and Marvell.

Qualcomm announced a Snapdragon Voice Activation, a feature that it said will allow users to securely wake up a mobile device using a Snapdragon 800 processor in standby or airplane mode using only a custom voice command. The company said there are 55 Snapdragon 800-powered tablets and smartphones in development. A competing chipmaker, STMicroelectronics, demonstrated its Fingertip technology on a Nexus 7 tablet. The feature uses micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) sensors to enable you to control a mobile device by hovering over it (within about 2 inches) without actually touching the glass.

At the TED conference, also this week, an MIT grad student showed a 3D interface he developed while working at Microsoft. The SpaceTop 3D interface uses a transparent display and two cameras to enable you to use your hands to interact with things on the screen as if they were physical objects. This one seems more like a science project — there are no plans for commercialization — but it is certainly interesting.

All of this is happening at the same time that innovation in the basic hardware — phablets, convertibles, and ultrabooks — is blurring the lines between PCs and mobile devices. Things are getting interesting in PCs precisely when interest in the PC is on the wane. Of course that is one of the reasons we are seeing so much experimentation. Competition has forced the hand of computer makers.

Whatever the reason, it seems likely that the PCs and tablets we are using only a couple years from now won't look the same or work the same as the ones we have today.

Topic: Laptops

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  • Touch?

    The "touch interface" will never make it to pc's. With the average size of PC monitors today, if you can reach it, your too close to it. And the failure of windows 8 speaks for itself.

    Now the new motion control setups (not the cameras, those give me the creeps, always watching you, sending data to who knows where) like the one in this article that are coming out are quite intriguing and will probably catch on quickly as the accuracy rises and the price drops to mainstream levels.

    The "MYO - Wearable Gesture Control from Thalmic Labs" (google that, you'll find a youtube vieo) looks even more promising. It doesn't restrict you to a certain area.
  • Mouse is Dead

    Motion controller technology will finally kill off the mouse.
    While typing you can just lift your finger up an inch or two from the keyboard and very accurately move the cursor.
    • I'm not going to hand signal my screen all day

      If you want to look like a moron playing little birdie all day, that's your business.
  • Renders Windows 8 selling point obsolete

    This means that the touch-centric Windows 8 interface really was not necessary. People will grow weary of squinting at tablet sized monitors, and if they get a larger one, they are having to reach and touch a bigger area with their arms - not convenient.
    D.J. 43
  • Leap Motion Controller won't be around for very long

    Micro$oft will gobble them up in still another corporate merger, steal their patents and then declare themselves the inventor.

    Greed and artifice still rule the day...
    • So what?

      I could not care less who invents something, what counts is who deliveres it.
      • But I care less

        And what you say doesn't mean jack sh!t to me.
  • Not sure

    My monitor is 24 inches and almost 3 feet away.
    At this point I would rather use my mouse.
    Very little movement to do stuff.
    A thimble on my index finger that operates with the same movement as a mouse would work but it would need an activate button so every time I move my hand the cursor does not freak out.
  • Sorry but no...

    Yes I've used touch screens and Microsoft's gesture technology and even voice recognition,,, they don't even come close in productivity compared to a keyboard and mouse.