by December 5, 2002 0 comments

The future, as imagined in many science-fiction blockbusters, has generally been far removed from reality. At current technology levels, without being irrationally exuberant, we can safely claim that many of the technologies shown in movies are already knocking on the door. Consider the way Anderton, the character played by Tom Cruise in Minority Report, handles the huge amounts of data coming from the precogs. He doesn’t have the time to type or click. After all, lives at are stake, so, he just points. That is supposed to be in 2054. 

An almost similar technology is on the shelves right now, from a company called Fingerworks. This is a mouse-pad like touch screen. That is, you move your fingers on the pad like you would a mouse. Where it really stands out is in its ability to distinguish between a keystroke and a mouse movement and act accordingly. 

Such equipment not only brings in a new paradigm to the way we operate a computer, but could also reduce Repetitive Stress Injuries (RSIs). Many such devices are increasingly finding their way into the market.

The graduation from 2D input to 3D input is but a small step. The P5 glove ($149.99, approx Rs 7,500) from Essential Reality is a strap-on device that can detect the movement of fingers with great accuracy. Currently it works with PC-based games. Although it also supports the Mac OS, no Mac games support it yet. Further versions are to be made compatible with game consoles like the PS2. The glove works using optical tracking system that can work four to five feet away from the base receptor. 

with your mouse

cannot wait to try out new ways of working with your PC, but do not
have access to the devices mentioned here? Does that mean that you
have to give that experience a go by? No. You can get started with
the humble mouse.The familiar browser Opera from version 5.11
onwards has built-in mice gesturing. These are additional movements
of the mouse that execute commands when in Opera. For example,
holding down the right button and moving the mouse to the left takes
you to the previous page. Holding and moving to the right goes to
the next page. The Opera website lists all the gestures you can
Taking the cue from Opera, many others have started building gesture
add-ons to software.

A more esoteric, strapless version of the same is being developed by Canasta. It uses an infrared transmitter to bounce a beam off an object and onto a small CCD (charge-coupled device), like those found in digital cameras and camcorders. A built-in chip can measure precisely when the infrared beam hits each pixel. By comparing the infrared beam’s time of flight to different parts of the CCD, the chip can form 3D image maps and, hence, precisely locate the fingers 
in motion.

The other half of the man-machine interface is the display. Even here, major innovations are already in place that could completely change the way computers display information. Cut back to Minority Report, for example. Anderton gets his images from the precogs on to a vast parabolic glass display. Possible? Yes. Eminently possible. FOLEDs or Flexible Organic Light Emitting Devices is what you are looking for. Unlike traditional glass monitors, these are formed of ultra thin display panels built on flexible substrates. That is, they can be rolled or formed into almost any shape, including Andertons’ parabolic display, and they would still give sharp images, in color. If you go to, you can see a video of one such display in action.

Hands as mouse

In Minority Report, Tom Cruise uses hand gestures to move through the input from the precogs. Where did the gestures come from? Before the movie was fleshed out, Spielberg called
a meeting of about 15 eminent people, from different walks of life to figure out how life would be in New York in the year 2054, where the movie is set. Among them was John Underkoffler, from MIT’s Media Labs, who became the science and technology adviser to the movie. He devised the gestures Cruise used in the movie to sift through hundreds of images, selectively zooming in on some. The gestures are not pure drama, but draw on earlier research in similar areas done at MIT.

Another interesting display possibility is holographic or 3D displays. Movies like Star-trek have made us familiar with this concept many years back. Research on holographic display systems is also in fairly advanced stages.

The Mark I Autostereoscopic Display developed by the spatial imaging group at Media Labs, MIT ( edu/groups/spi/index.html) is a stereoscopic 3D display system for one person. The viewer does not have to wear any special viewing device. The system uses an infrared camera to track the position of the viewers head, and accordingly positions left and right eye images of the scene for display. The Mark II, which is under development, is to be a multi-viewer system (currently, three viewers), where each viewer will be individually tracked, and separate images are projected according to the head positions each of the viewers.

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