The Future is Here: Holovision and PointGrab!

holovisionNothing spells future quite like a life-size hologram in your living room, does it? And much like flying cars and personal jetpacks (though these too are in development), holographics has been one promise that appears to be slow in materializing. However, thanks to the work of California-based company known as Provision, this promise is approaching reality.

Their invention is known as the  Holovision, a life-size holographic projector that uses what is called aerial or volumetric imaging – a way of producing 3D images without special glasses, lenses or slits. It uses a digital LCD screen and a concave mirror to produce the illusion of a 3D image floating outside the projector, and can produce clearer images without generating multiple views or causing dizziness or nausea.

holovision-0For some time now, Provision has been making 3D projectors as marketing tools, but is now running a Kickstarter campaign aimed at raising US$950,000 to fund the development of new technology for the projector, with hopes of unveiling it next year. Currently, the company’s largest projector can only produce an 18-in (45.7-cm) image, but the goal is to create one 6 feet (1.8 m) tall that projects 7 ft (2.1 m) from the screen and is visible within a 100-degree arc.

This will require developing new optics and a new light source. But once this is achieved, Provision plans to miniaturize the system to the size of a toaster for the game console market before expanding to applications in education, medicine, video conferencing and other fields. Just imagine, phone conversations or Skyping where you get to talk to a life-size representation of the person! I know one person who would be thrilled about this, though I imagine he’d want a bigger projector for himself…

ESB_emperorThe Kickstarter campaign runs through August 14 and the public debut of the system is scheduled for March, 2014. So far, the project has collected $13,112, a mere 1% of its total goal. However, they are just getting started, and have seven months to go. So if you’ve got money and want holographics to become a permanent part of gaming, teleconferencing and social media, invest now!

In a similar vein, gesture control, something that has also been explored heavily in science fiction, appears to be getting a boost as well. For those who do not own an Xbox Kinect or are unfamiliar with the technology (or just haven’t seen Minority Report), gesture control is essentially a motion capture technology that monitors a person’s movements and gestures as an interface.

minority-reportAnd it is companies like PointGrab that are looking to make this type of interface the norm for computing, relying on a technology known as Hybrid Action Recognition (HAR). Unlike previous gesture recognitions software, the company claims that the updated version that they recently launched is 98% accurate and takes advantage of numerous advances that will make the technology mainstream.

The biggest advance comes in the form of being able to tell the difference between intentional movement, such as putting your fingers to your lips to mute a TV or computer, and unintentional gestures, such as scratching your lip. In addition, PointGrab has updated its machine learning algorithms to accommodate more environmental factors, such as different lighting conditions and hand sizes, to improve accuracy.

gesture-controlAccording to Assaf Gad, vice president of marketing and product for PointGrab, its all about accommodation. And this is really just the beginning:

We don’t want to teach people how to interact with devices. The devices have to be smart enough to analyze the body language of user and act accordingly.

Based in Israel, PointGrab has been working on gesture recognition interfaces since 2008. Two other Israeli companies, Eyesight and Extreme Reality, are also developing gesture and body movement recognition software platforms that work with a variety of devices equipped with standard 2D cameras. In addition, Leap Motion just introduced a hardware controller for enabling gesture control, and Microsoft’s Xbox One will enable control of more than games with its updated Kinect technology.

eyeSight-3D-Gesture-ControlAnd according to Gad, this is really just the beginning. Soon gesture control will be integrated with other emerging technologies to create much more intelligent interfaces:

I see it as good sign that we are in the right place to change way people interact. In the near future, we’ll see more solutions that combine voice and gesture, as well as 3D.

An exciting prospect, and very futuristic! Now if only someone would get on those damn flying cars already. It’s the 21st century, we were promised flying cars! And be sure to enjoy this video of the PointGrab software in action:


Sources: dvice.com, news.cnet, kickstarter.com

Omnitouch Projection Touch Screens

OmnitouchOne of the most interesting areas in which computing has been improving lately has been in the realm of interfacing. Concepts like the XBOX Kinect gaming console have not occurred in a vacuum; in fact, they are part of a larger research trend that wants to make projection and scanning the way of the future. After all, why rely on a monitor or a console when you can project images onto any surface and use them like a touchscreen?

That’s the idea behind the OmniTouch technology. Using the same technology from the Kinect gaming system, a research team made of developers from Microsoft and Carnegie-Mellon University revealed back in October that they’ve come up with a system that can turn virtually any surface into a touchscreen. By combining a miniature camera and a portable computer, the user can write documents, check email and carry out their daily computational tasks simply by finding a surface.

Chris Harrison, a postgraduate researcher at Carnegie Mellon’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute in Pittsburgh and a former intern at Microsoft Research and co-inventor of the device, describes the process as follows:

“OmniTouch works by bringing together a miniature projector and an infrared depth camera, similar to the kind used in Microsoft’s Kinect game console, to create a shoulder-worn system designed to interface with mobile devices such as smart phones. Instead of relying on screens, buttons, or keys, the system monitors the user’s environment for any available surfaces and projects an interactive display onto one or more of them.

“OmniTouch does this automatically, using the depth information provided by the camera to build a 3-D model of the environment. The camera acquires depth information about the scene by emitting a patterned beam of infrared light and using the reflections to calculate where surfaces are in the room. This eliminates the need for external calibration markers. The system rebuilds the model dynamically as the user or the surface moves—for example, the position of a hand or the angle or orientation of a book—so the size, shape, and position of these projections match those of the improvised display surfaces.”

Hrvoje Benko, another researcher who developed the device, admits that the current shoulder-mounted model is impractical. However, all the components involved in its creation are off-the-shelf electronics which are being miniaturized all the time. “But it’s not where you mount it that counts,” he says. “The core motivation was to push this idea of turning any available surface into an interactive surface… So I don’t think we’re so far from it being made into a pendant or attached to glasses.”

All of this calls to mind the SixthSense concept invented by Pranav Mistry many years ago. Presenting at TedTalks, he demonstrated how a wearable camera, finger mounted devices, and a portable computer, a person could use just about any surface to interface with their computer and even be able to transfer documents and programs to stationary computers.

While he may have beaten the IBM research team to the punch, this represents a step forward for portable computing and touch-technology since it shows that the results can be duplicated and made commercially viable.

Click on the video below to watch the OmniTouch device in action, and check out Pranav Mistry’s presentation to TedTalks at the bottom. Both enlightening and worthwhile video segments, trust me on that!