Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Minority Report: Now (Nearly) in Stores

I'm not talking about the awesome 2002 movie which starred Tom Cruise, although it does involve the technology featured in it. I'm referring to the display where Cruise used hand gestures in the air (after fitting on a specially-made glove) that would enable him to interact with the computer. Turning his fist right would fast-forward a video, making a rectangle with his two hands would select a certain video frame...etc. All along, we have been trapped by the mouse/keyboard and have never been truly able to be able to express what we want on the computer in a quick and intuitive way.

However, in the past two years, Perceptive Pixel, a company led by Jeff Han, has been developing technology that would enable users to forgo the mouse and typical keyboard and instead use your hands to interact with the super sized upright display. Of course, this still requires you to physically touch the display, but is definitely a step up from the current computing interface. The multi-touch technology that it relies is already on the market today, primarily by Microsoft's Surface, Apple's iPhone/iPod Touch/MacBook trackpads, and as of recently, T-Mobile/Google's G1 phone.

This past January, the first of his displays was showcased by CNN during the caucuses and primaries in the U.S. Presidential Election. Dubbed by CNN as "The Magic Wall," its usefulness and popularity has since spread to the other major news networks, including FOX and ABC. As materials get cheaper and demand increases, these multi-touch displays will no doubt be seen in more high-profile locations.

Speaking of CNN, this was not the first time they took the lead in demonstrating new technology. In January, CNN's Anderson Cooper held up a "Virtual Pie Chart" to display the results of the Iowa Caucuses. It was based on cameras that was aimed at the placard he held, and a a computer rendered a pie chart over it. On Election Day in November, CNN once again took the prize when they beamed a "hologram" of music artist and activist, who was in a studio in Chicago, to speak with Cooper, who was in New York City. This time, the set-up was much more elaborate: dozens of cameras surrounding in a circular fashion, which was also surrounded by a green screen. In CNN's NYC studios, computers added in a 2D image of him that was only viewable on a television screen, not visible in the actual studio.

Of course, all of these technologies are only a small peek into the future of the many applications that can be created to enhance our experience with computing that will make it as easy as interacting with real life. I await the day when I can view and organize my pictures or do research at home with the feeling that I truly have control over my actions.

A parody of the Magic Wall on Saturday Night Live:

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