UPDATED 08:29 EDT / OCTOBER 05 2015


The reality of Minority Report: A slow but surer gesture recognition revolution

As Fox’s new series Minority Report enters its third week – we weren’t overly complimentary of the opening episode – the gestural interface technology we see in the series is arguably less spectacular now as it was to viewers in 2002 when Tom Cruise was skillfully swiping the air and pinching screens into oblivion in the film of the same name.

Since 2002 gesture recognition technology has come a long way, but so far mid-air scrolling is not something we expect to see in the average household. That may change sooner than we think. Reports state that gesture recognition is about to, “Change rapidly due to evolving technology and more and more OEM’s are moving towards gesture recognition technology adoption.” A report by market research firm, Markets and Markets, says that the industry, dubbed the “gestural-interface revolution”, is seeing steady growth, adding, “Analysts forecast the Global Gesture Recognition market to grow at a CAGR [Compound Annual Growth Rate] of 29.2 percent over the period 2013-2018.”

The revolution is now?

When Minority Report the film came out, the interface we see Cruise using was based on something called g-speak Spatial Operating Environment technology that was under development by Oblong Industries. One of the technical advisors to Spielberg’s film was John Underkoffler, a chief scientist working on the then revolutionary user interface (UI). Unlike Minority Report though, the science non-fiction loses some of its sheen as the g-speak user has to don a pair of gloves to interact with the machine.

Then came what was called a huge breakthrough in gesture control with Leap Motion, a highly advanced small device that allows users to interact with their computers without the use of funny-looking gloves. All you need to do is plug it into your USB port and you’re good to go. At the time of its first iteration in 2013 it was called the “most natural user interface possible.” Would this spell the end of the mouse, the object most modern folks likely hold onto more than anything in the world?

A glowing report in 2013 by the BBC stated, “Using only subtle movements of fingers and hands within a short distance of the device, virtual pointing, swiping, zooming, and painting become possible. First deliveries of the 3in (7.6cm)-long gadget begin this week.” It may have been pricey – at the time reportedly 200 times more expensive than Microsoft’s Kinect – but back then Leap Motion was sure that its technology would soon render the keyboard and mouse superfluous to requirements. This was doubted, though, by many people working in the computer technology industry for the simple reason they thought it would likely prove ergonomically ill-suited for users to keep waving their tired hands around, or that people just didn’t need such an interface in their day-to-day lives.

Leap Motion was also criticized for the few apps with which it could be used, although it seemed developers were keen to work on it. One of its early testers wrote that, “Even the simplest acts and gestures can seem tedious or challenging, which can frustrate even the most patient user.” But perhaps that changed when Leap Motion updated its device to what it called the V2 (Version 2), which is said to be much more responsive that the first version. Leap Motion CEO and Co-founder Michael Buckwald was quoted in Forbes as saying that, “V2 retains the speed and positional accuracy found in V1, but the software also now tracks the actual joints and bones inside each of the user’s fingers.”

Gesturing the real world

Maybe it works better, but at the end of the day the only way this technology will succeed is if we have a good reason to use it. While the novelty itself is a factor as to why we might want one, when serious work needs to be done it’s likely our hands might reach back for our dear old friends the mouse and the keyboard. However, gestural technology in the beginning might be better suited to the health industry, where hand tracking technology is currently being used as therapy for people with certain disabilities.

One of the biggest developments in the industry is gesture control in cars. This will mean things like quickly being able to change radio channels when a One Direction song comes on, blasting out the AC, or adjusting your seat, which can be done with a point and a swipe. As a Wall Street Jounral article points out such a development could considerably improve safety on the roads, reducing your, “Look-away time.” It will of course have to work perfectly, or otherwise it could cause more harm than good – especially when you can’t get that damn song out of the car and you start losing your cool. BMW and Volkswagen are both currently experimenting with this technology.

A solution without a problem

It’s not all niche interest, though, concerning gesture control developments. General consumers are trying the technology out, and it’s interesting to read their reactions on Amazon to Leap Motion. Most of which goes along the lines of impressive technology with promise but sometimes tricky to use, and also very limited in what you can do with it. This was laconically summed-up by one reviewer who said, “Largely a solution looking for a problem.”

Leap Motion is just one player in a revolution that might or might not happen soon. Microsoft has said to have invented the “Holy Grail of motion detection” with their Handpose technology. But even the creators of Handpose are careful not to cultivate too much futuristic expectations. It needs to be twice as fast as it is now, says Microsoft, for it to be agreeably accurate.  Although when that point comes, says Redmond, our lives will be changed ever so slightly; well, at least for those of us who spend a good part of our days and nights holding onto a mouse. I’m already feeling nostalgic about the little guy to my right.

Photo credit: youflavio via Flickr

A message from John Furrier, co-founder of SiliconANGLE:

Your vote of support is important to us and it helps us keep the content FREE.

One click below supports our mission to provide free, deep, and relevant content.  

Join our community on YouTube

Join the community that includes more than 15,000 #CubeAlumni experts, including Amazon.com CEO Andy Jassy, Dell Technologies founder and CEO Michael Dell, Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger, and many more luminaries and experts.

“TheCUBE is an important partner to the industry. You guys really are a part of our events and we really appreciate you coming and I know people appreciate the content you create as well” – Andy Jassy