Fast Company

The Genius Behind Minority Report's Interfaces Resurfaces, With Mind-blowing New Tech

You have to watch this video, to appreciate how fast gestural interfaces are developing.

 It's a cliche to say that Minority Report-style interfaces are just around the corner. But not when John Underkoffler is involved. As tech advistor on the film, he was the guy whose work actually inspired the interfaces that Tom Cruise used. The real-life system he's been developing, called g-speak, is unbelievable.

We've previously covered Underkoffler and his startup, Oblong, but in February, he unveiled his latest work at TED. The video was just recently put online. And. It. Will. Blow. Your. Mind.

The video is 15 minutes long, but fast forward to 6:30 if you want to zip straight to the trippy stuff.

Oblong hasn't previously revealed most of the features you see in the later half of the video, including the ability zoom in and fly through a virtual, 3-D image environment (6:30); the ability to navigate a SQL database in 3-D (8:40); the gestural wand that lets you manipulate and disassemble 3-D models (10:00); and the stunning movie-editing system, called Tamper (11:00).

Underkoffler thinks these gestural systems--which offer far more robustness than Microsoft's Project Natal or PlayStation's Move--are five years from being commonplace. And he thinks they're not only cool, but necessary: "Much of what we want computers to help us with is spatial," he says. And much of what computers do is easiest to understand and navigate if we tap a visual system we've spent millions of years evolving.

Oblong, for its part, is making these things real: That SQL database is a logistics application you can easily see being gobbled up by supply-chain planners.

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2 Comments

  • Nate O'Shaughnessey

    yes, these look cool, and would be great for information kiosks and those types of applications. maybe.
    even better, in movies...

    However, It results in a problem known as "Gorilla Arm Syndrome" for people that spend much time at a computer. None of us are fit enough to hold our arms up in front of us for very long, certainly not the hours at a time many of us spend at a modern workstation computer, then be able to make precision movements and selections. No doubt it looks cool, just like the original TRON looked cool.

    In my opinion, this is an example of brilliant people who have invented brillinat technology.
    But it's not designed for people. It's designed to look cool so it can raise capital, and maybe even sell to people. but it is most certainly not the technology of the future, nor an inevitable interface evolution.

    In the presentation, it is even equated to art. seriously, art? that' a little lofty for a supercharged NES Powerglove, circa 1989 with a tailored operating system. Imagine trying to crunch thousands of data cells in an Excel sheet with this or writing program code, or any of other work that most of us do on our computers.

    I would have expected this type of product pitch in 1998, but I hoped in 2010, we would be more user aware. On the other hand, maybe they know it isn't useful, but they know that many people will pay good money for "Cool", and that's they whole marketing idea. Useful? no, so don't try pitching it as a useful workstation environment. Rather, as the TED guy said at the end, what about gaming interface appliction. Now that is the kind thing they should focus on. Where people will pay good money for cool, even if it's not really more useful.
    I can't get the scene out of my head from Gulliver's Travels (yes, Ted Danson) when the "Yahoo's" were digging for diamonds.