Even though Minority Report was originally a short story from the 1950s, everyone remembers the gesture-based, 3D computer interface from the 2002 movie more than just about anything else in either the story or film. Now, an MIT grad student has created a 3D screen that displays items you can manipulate with your hands. It’s a 3D touchscreen, inasmuch as you can touch a virtual 3D object.
Grad student Jinha Lee took Spielberg’s movie one step further — rather than having gestures control an interface displayed in 3D, you stick your hands “into” the screen and control the interface by grabbing and poking at it. In his device, the SpaceTop, two cameras join and with a transparent display and keep a watchful eye on you; one tracks your movement and gestures, while the other tracks your gaze in order to change the perspective of the items in the display so they look correct.
If that seems cool (hint: it does), you should keep in mind what it’s like trying to navigate an interface using Kinect or playing an entire game with motion controls — it’s somewhat uncomfortable. If a user interface induces any amount of discomfort, then the interface is a failure. With certain modern-day devices, such as smartphones and tablets, we’ve found that a touchscreen interface is comfortable and often the preferred way to interact with a device. With regards to the Kinect, though, having to hold your arm up in the air for an extended period just to perform simple tasks isn’t ideal. However, Lee doesn’t state that the SpaceTop will replace the trusty mouse-and-keyboard setup, but would be another interface option for the same system. Think of how Nintendo’s 3DS allows you to switch the 3D on and off at will, or how a touchscreen ultrabook allows you to use either the touchscreen or a mouse to navigate.
Lee does note that a 3D, manipulatable interface won’t replicate something as simple as slightly moving a mouse, a device on which we can also rest our hand. However, SpaceTop isn’t intended for that kind of interaction, as it has benefits more for collaborative or design work, and theoretically being able to see how products look — jewelry, for instance — before you purchase them online. Lee does have a refreshing philosophy though, about who should be designing an interface like SpaceTop.
Rather than the scientists or engineers creating the device, the interface should be left up to regular people, as regular people will be the best judge of what they’re willing to accept. Indeed, as it will get tiring flailing around like Tom Cruise every time we try to purchase something from Steam.
[Image credit: Daniel Gallo]