Oblong Industries recently unveiled its new "spatial operating environment," a computer interface that lets you pluck, stroke, and shuffle onscreen data with nothing but a pair of gloves. If you've ever wanted to punch the Internet, that day is approaching.
A few days ago, at the 2010 TED conference, Oblong, an L.A.-based software development company, debuted its flagship "g-speak" technology. In this clip, and in others at Oblong's Vimeo channel, you can get a sense of what g-speak is all about. The "monitor" is projected on a flat surface, and instead of using a mouse and keyboard, you wear gloves. Onscreen, the information responds to your gestures. In Oblong's demo videos, a user scrolls through data, tweaks photos, and fast-forwards and pauses film footage, all by waving his hands around like a flight attendant pointing out emergency exits.
Oblong likes to compare its remote-manipulation graphics displays to the ones seen in "Minority Report," a film on which Oblong co-founder John Underkoffler served as science adviser. It's an apt point of reference, though we've also seen poke-at-the-air computer screens in "Avatar," "Iron Man" (which Underkoffler also consulted on), and countless other movies. Still, that doesn't make it any less impressive when, for example, an Oblong rep, using only gestures, pauses a movie clip of two trucks speeding down the highway, extracts one of the trucks, and moves it onto another screen.
Tech bloggers have mostly fallen over themselves to praise Oblong's interface—MG Siegler at TechCrunch said that if "the iPad is Step 1 in the future of computing," then "this is Step 2." Henry Blodget at Business Insider was less enamored, calling g-speak "such a load of crap" (shout-out?) and guessing that it would only be useful in "some highly special applications—collaborative presentations, perhaps."
Blodget seems to have a point, in that waving your arms at a projection on the wall probably wouldn't be all that practical for the kind of typing-intensive work that constitutes everyday computer use for most of us. The list of special client bases currently using g-speak—corporations, the academy, the military—is exactly who you'd guess the tech would be marketed and sold to. But Underkoffler said recently that in his opinion, it's only a matter of time before you can get it in stores:
I think in five years' time, when you buy a computer, you'll get this.
Thumbs up, we guess, or high five, or A-okay. Just take the gloves off before you do any of those, lest you accidentally wipe out a year's worth of data.
Image courtesy of Oblong Industries.