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Bye-bye, mouse. Hello, mind control

Maria Korolov | Nov. 27, 2012
When workplace computers moved beyond command-line interfaces to the mouse-and-windows-based graphical user interface, that was a major advance in usability. And the command line itself was a big improvement over the punch cards and tape that came before.

"We've been playing around with browser interfaces that work with you moving your body instead of moving a mouse," he says. But there are no common gesture equivalents to the "pinch to shrink" and "swipe to flip page" touch commands.

There are some gestures that are universally identifiable, but they may be less appropriate for the workplace.

"We're at the beginning of the gesture phase," he says. "And not just the gestures, but everything we can do with some kind of camera pointing at us, such as moving our eyebrows and moving our mouths. For example, the screen saver on the laptop -- why doesn't it use the camera on the lid to figure out whether to screen save? If your eyes are open and you're facing the display it should stay lit up."

One company tracking hand motion is Infinite Z, which requires that users wear 3D glasses and use a stylus to touch objects which appear to float in the air in front of them.

"A virtual environment makes a lot of sense for computer-aided design, data visualization, pharmaceuticals, medicine, and oil and gas simulations," says David Chavez, the company's CTO. The products works with Unity 3D and other virtual environment engines, as well as the company's own Z-Space platform.

Another difficult technology to commercialize is eye tracking, which is commonly used to see which portions of an ad or Website viewers look at first. It is also used to improve communication for the handicapped.

Reynold Bailey, a computer science professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, uses eye-tracking technology to teach doctors to read mammograms better. The idea is to subtly highlight areas that the student should look at next, teaching them the scan patterns followed by experienced radiologists.

"If this works with mammograms, there are also other applications," he says. The same technology can be used to train pilots in how to check instruments, for example.

But he says he doesn't expect eye tracking to be used as an input device, to, say, replace a mouse for general-purpose use.

"The eye is not an input device," he says. "With the mouse, you can hover over a link and decide whether to click or not. With the eye, you might just be reading it, so you don't want to activate everything you look at. So you can do blink to click, but your eyes get tired from that. And we move our eyes around and blink involuntarily."

Limits of mind control

It may sound like science fiction, but mind reading devices are already out in the market -- and they don't require sensors or plugs to be implanted into your skull. Some work by sensing nerve signals sent to arms and legs, and are useful for helping restore mobility to the handicapped. Others read brain waves, such as the Intific, Emotiv and NeuroSky headsets.


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