> Envisioning Interactivity

Envisioning Interactivity

Posted on Monday, March 25, 2013 | No Comments

Touch screens have become common place in consumer technology – tablets, laptops and smart phones all have them built right in.  Voice controls are now sophisticated enough to allow you to talk directly to your devices and have them carry out a multitude of tasks without having to pick up or touch a single device.  And technologies such as Google Glass, Bing Vision and Kinect are all allowing us to interact with our devices by gesturing at rather sophisticated cameras.
Envisioning Centre
A few weeks back Microsoft unveiled their new and updated ‘Envisioning Centre’ featuring all of their latest technology thinking of what is just around the corner for us all.  It’s a real showcase of Microsoft technology and of what-could-be. 
It’s not the first time Microsoft have showed off its visions of the future – a few videos a couple of years back showed how we will interact with future devices yet to be invented and the world around us.  But these were concept videos; the envisioning centre is something a bit more real and closer to today’s realities.

What is most striking about the video of the Envisioning Centre is the amount of rather large touch screens that are scattered around the place, allowing the ‘family’ to simply touch, talk and show them various items to make the computer(s) work in a friendly and straight forward way.
Microsoft bought big touch screen specialists “Perceptive Pixel” to allow them to gain a foothold in this business, so it’s no real surprise that they see the big screen as part of future tech, but with some of the other emerging technologies coming up, will touch screens ever become cheap enough, fast enough?
Touch Screens
Whilst the price of touch screens are coming down all the time thanks to the rise of tablets and all-in-one PCs, if you search for a large touch screen display you’ll see that the prices are still rather expensive compared to the non-touch screen versions of the same displays.
Undoubtedly the price of large touch screens will come down in price to more affordable levels; but I’m still left unsure that they are the future of organisations for those users working at traditional office desks where space is still a limiting factor – but the traditional office is changing constantly and the office is heading in a direction of enabling ‘work from anywhere’ and is a whole different blog post for perhaps another day.
But is the touch screen really all that with some of the other up-and-coming technologies?
Leap Motion
Leap Motion technology is something that I’m extremely excited about and can’t wait to get my hands (or not), on it.  It’s basically a small camera based system that plugs into the USB port of your computer that then allows Kinect-like interactions with your computer by waving your fingers or a pencil at the screen without ever having to physically touch anything.

The technology is extremely impressive and has a wide ranging number of applications, but what impresses me even more about this tiny device is the price.  On release in May of this year, it will go on sale for around only $60!  For that price you can enable any screen or projected display to be fully interactive without breaking the bank.
What’s more Leap has already started working on integrating their technology directly into laptop computers.  This could change the way users interact with their devices in a big, big way and could lead to a paradigm shift away from the mouse and track pad tech.
It should come as no surprise that Microsoft has also been working on changing their Kinect technology to work in similar ways, but it’s important to remember that Kinect is a very different technology for tracking the whole moment of a person and its environment rather that the subset movements of hand, fingers and close range objects.
In order for Microsoft to compete with Leap however, they will have to make their Kinect sensors much smaller than what it is today; I’m sure they’ve already started work on this a long time ago and have something in the pipeline that would fit into a laptop or tablet bezel, but this change would be worth doing overall.
About a year ago I watched a Microsoft Research conference online featuring a couple of young engineers who claimed to have Jedi powers and were able to demonstrate their skills to switch lights on and off simply by waving their hand.
Amazed at the online video, I watched the full interview to see how it actually worked.  It turns out that these engineers hadn’t been trained by a Jedi Master, but instead had developed a band that wrapped around the arm of the wear that measured their muscle movements and in doing so, translated those movements into the tangible action of switching the lights on and off.
The technology in the video was rather bulky, however they promised that future iterations would be much more refined.  Fast forward to today and another company – Myo - (not affiliated with Microsoft from what I can tell), have developed their own interactive armband that can be used to control computers and other enabled technologies simply by moving their arm, hand and fingers in an appropriate way.

The way the band works is simply revolutionary and fascinating for an outsider – or at least for me, to know that we (humans) have the knowledge and know-how of how muscle groups work together and translate them into movements that are then transposed into interactions on the screen.
What’s more, the price of the Myo band is set to retail for only $150, which makes the device affordable as a technology for further development.  This is the type of technology that would be worthy enough to be built directly into a smart watch.
Interaction Technology is in our Hands
Whilst the touch screen will play a part in future devices and interactions, as these two technologies demonstrate that it won’t be along in how we interact with our computers and peripherals.  Interaction technologies are developing at a rapid pace and at a cost that makes the affordable to put into the hands (or at least close to the hands), of the average user.
The future is coming.

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