Hand Waving at NXTcomm 2008

ATIS

produced an extremely interesting panel on television navigation at the NXTcomm 2008 conference. This panel went beyond the normal hand waving and showed the future is here in many ways. One of the most interesting applications of this panel is one where broadband could prove instrumental in providing medical rehabilitation.   

Francis MacDougal, CTO and co-founder of GestureTek, demonstrated his company’s facial recognition and full-body tracking technology.  What this technology allows is interaction with a computer, mobile phone or set-top without the need for a remote control. By simply pointing and waving one’s hands or body, it is possible to control a user interface.   According to MacDougal, the software can tell to within 93% accuracy whether a person controlling an application is a man or a woman.    

One of the more interesting applications for this technology is in the health industry. MacDougal gave an example of how one study found a 30% re-growth in brain function in 6 weeks due to playing interactive games using their technology. He cited examples in Spain and England whereby the medical systems would subsidize the cost of bringing a set-top and service to stroke victims in their homes, as it would be much more cost effective than treating the patients in a medical facility.  From a hardware point of view, it only requires the addition of a simple USB video camera.

Hillcrest Labs has a different, but still revolutionary approach to navigating displays in multiple dimensions. Their motion sensing based remote control is analogous to what Ninentdo introduced with its Wii. A key difference with the Wii’s remote is Hillcrest’s ability to dampen hand tremor and provide a very stable pointer on the screen. Interestingly, this same hand tremor provides a signature of sorts and can provide greater than 80% accuracy in identifying particular users. 

Andy Addis, Hillcrest’s Executive Vice President of Marketing, said their software can be included in any remote control (at another presentation I saw earlier in the year, it was suggested that it could be incorporated in cell phones). Addis indicated that the remote control was just one part of the equation and that the navigation has to evolve from “flash-cut” (x-y) to “spatial” (3-D) in order to cut down on surfing and increase viewing.   

The panel’s moderator, Danny Briere, CEO of Telechoice, expanded on the idea of what a remote could be by suggesting that the aforementioned technology could be incorporated into stuffed animals or toys (e.g. the next generation Webkinz). This is an interesting approach, as it takes the remote from a commodity to something that has an emotional connection. 

It was somewhat a given that targeted advertising would be one justification for implementing these technologies.   Closely related to targeted advertising is consumer privacy and what information is given to advertisers, merchants, government. These issues were not the focus of this panel. No, this panel was a nuts and bolts review of hand-waving technology that appears to be ready for prime-time.     

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