After Hours

Is the Web cam the next input device?

We've all seen the future of interfaces in movies like Ironman and the Minority report but what can you do today? How about gestures via a Webcam?
We've all seen the future of interfaces in movies like Ironman and the Minority report but what can you do today? How about gestures via a Web cam?

Since the 1980s the most popular human input devices have largely been the trusty keyboard and mouse. However, in the past few years we've seen quite more interest in new input devices and interfaces, and, unlike virtual reality and other promised technologies, some of them are being accepted by the masses. The iPhone has shown that touch screens can work if designed correctly and the Nintendo Wii with it's 3-axis 'Wiimote' has been a hit in mainstream gaming circles. These are just two examples but there are more in niche areas.

Last week I stumbled across a nifty free application called FluidTunes, developed by Majic Jungle Software. In a nutshell FluidTunes controls music in iTunes using a Web cam and the gestures of your hands (or other moving body parts for that matter). Simply move your hand or head across the screen will play, pause, and navigate through your songs in iTunes.

While the tool is a fun example it highlights how a simple Web camera – which are sold as part of most new laptops and some desktops – can really bring new functionality and new use to applications.

For example, educational software aimed at children who have little understanding of keyboard input devices could be built. Web pages and applications and PC games could possibly be driven by hand gestures instead of a mouse and other traditional one-way technologies could become more interactive. In a media centre lounge room a Web cam configured to gestures could possibly be the solution to the frustration of losing the remote down the back of the couch.

Add to the mix Bluetooth and Infrared technology and even more two-way interaction is possible.

We've already started to see the Web cam as a cheap tool to test usability of Web pages and software and game developers are starting to integrate the Playstation Eye into the functionality of many Playstation 3 games. Likewise, Microsoft have the Xbox Live Vision camera for the Xbox 360 games and FreeTrack is a GNU application that's used in PC games.

Could this cheap commodity item be used to drive your applications today or do you think I'm missing the mark? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Here's a video of Fluidtunes in action:

0 comments

Editor's Picks