johnny mnemonic meets the minority report
First, Keanu Reeves in Johnny Mnemonic gave us a view of what a virtual user interface looks like. He put on a pair of bulky VR goggle, and a pair of heavy VR gloves, and manipulated data objects on screen, “physically”, just as one would wooden blocks on a table. But who wants to don the goggle and a pair of silly gloves?
Seven years later, Hollywood improved the on-screen technology, and Tom Cruise in Minority Report put on a pair of lightweight woven gloves with LEDs, which presumably are tracked via some kind of sensors so the computer can tell what his fingers are doing, and got rid of the goggle altogether. Good improvement, and looks sexier too.
Well, Hollywood, eat your heart out. Microsoft folks in Redmond has gotten you beat; not only with fake technology exclusive to high power elites in the fictional world, but with real products that anyone can own within a year and use in their own homes.
Project Natal takes the momentum and popularity of Nintendo Wii, which allows you to hold a controller in your living room and swing a virtual racket, and improves on it by removing the controller altogether. Not only does it track what your arm and hand is doing, but it tracks the movement of your entire body, so not only can you virtually karate chop your opponent on screen, but you can deliver a roundhouse kick as well.
I have to admit, when Project Natal was announced at E3, the first day I thought it would be vaporware. They only showed a professionally produced demo video, and while it was very impressive, I thought there would be too many problems with it. But next day, the hands-on reports from gaming and gadget bloggers started streaming in, and the reviews were spectacular.
And certainly, the gaming aspect of this is tremendous: You can now bowl, bat, swing, fight, and drive without mashing buttons on hardware controllers, and that’s not to be taken lightly as a giant step forward for gaming experience. But what I believe will be even more significant is that the same technology can be applied to the computing world. Imagine being able to flip through pages of reports by a wave of the hand, or “click OK” by a small nod of the head. Pinch to Zoom can be done in mid air; rotating a photo can be done by turning with your hands rather than some crazy mouse movement. And having all of this be accomplished through relatively low cost hardware (supposedly just a couple of webcams) is just incredible, and is beyond the wildest dreams of most of the technology industry.
Good work Redmond. This is a tremendous step forward for the industry. Now ship it (coming 2010) so I can play with it!