I just wrapped up a contract with Oblong Industries, a little startup in L.A. located near some awesome graffiti. They are building a gestural computing interface called g-speak. This is how I usually describe it:
“You know Minority Report? The part where Tom Cruise is moving all that stuff around on the computer with little lights on his fingers? Yeah, well, the guy who designed all that stuff for the movie decided to actually implement it.”
There’s not really any point in trying to describe it in words – just watch the video if you haven’t already.
g-speak got slash-dotted, among other news mentions, and a lot of the comments are along the lines of “Pretty but useless” and “My arms would get tired doing that 8 hours a day.” I’m not going to claim that I know anything about the future of computer interface, but I did get to actually use g-speak a few times, which ought to make my comments slightly more interesting than those of the average slashdotter. (Note that I don’t represent Oblong in any way.)
Apparently, whenever a new non-keyboard/mouse interface comes up, the average geek thinks, “OMG, now I can show off my knowledge of geek trivia by immediately referencing gorilla arm!! Yeah! FRIst post!!” (Short short version: an interface that is usable for a few minutes may be too tiring to use for 8 hours a day.) Ensue riotous jokes about how they got Tom Cruise for the role because only someone with that much upper body strength could use the interface. Well, I propose a new term for the geek lexicon: “spindly limp crippled potato body”, which refers to the result of sitting in a chair using a keyboard and mouse for 8 hours a day. I mean, if I had to choose between incipient hunchback and sculpted arms, hey, I’m going to pick the arms.
This isn’t just an ill-informed rant: the first time I used g-speak, my RSI was flaring up again and using a computer for even a hour was hell. After a few minutes of gesturing and flying around through space, I realized that, for the first time in months, I was using a computer without pain. It felt insanely healthy and good to use a computer standing up and moving through a natural range of motion. (I went home, built myself a sit/stand workstation out of an old bookshelf, bought a huge monitor, and started walking around during typing breaks. Ahhhh.) I think you can do a number of things to make a gestural interface comfortable for use 8 hours a day – smaller gestures, sit/stand, partial keyboard use.
My second major impression was: Wow, I can get so much DATA into my head this way! You know how you feel when you get an even more enormous TV than your last one? Well, that times a hundred. With any sort of debugging, but OS debugging in particular, you have to both gather a lot of data and find some way to efficiently communicate it to your brain (generally via the high-bandwidth “eyeball” I/O port). I’ve solved more than one data corruption problem that baffled other people just by focusing on getting the data into a format in which the pattern was visually obvious. This interface blew everything else away in terms of bit-rate; not just having multiple square meters of display, but also being able to intuitively – without conscious thought – manipulate the data and your view of it. I felt actively covetous. This kind of interface is going to be de rigour for things like computer animation, simulation, anything working with images, etc.
Oh yeah, and Oblong is hiring in the programmer-type area. Drop me a line if you want an introduction. This stuff is so sexy it was an effort to not throw all my worldly possessions in a car and move down to L.A..