April 16, 2005
‘Minority Report’ interface created for US military
A computer interface inspired by the futuristic system portrayed in the movie Minority Report, starring Tom Cruise, could soon help real military personnel deal with information overload.
The film sees characters call up and manipulate video footage and other data in mid-air after donning a special pair of gloves. Now defence company Raytheon, based in Massachusetts, US, is working on a real version and has even employed John Underkoffler, the researcher who proposed the interface to the makers of the film.
Underkoffler is a science and technology consultant for Treadle and Loam Provisioners in California, US, and previously developed radical computer interfaces at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He says the new system should help military experts sift through large quantities of information quickly and efficiently.
"Keystrokes and mouse clicks limit your degree of freedom," Underkoffler told The Wall Street Journal.
Swiss Army knife
The system under development at Raytheon lets users don a pair of reflective gloves and manipulate images projected on a panoramic screen. A mounted camera keeps track of hand movements and a computer interprets gestures. "Your hand becomes a Swiss Army knife," says Underkoffler.
Raytheon plans to offer the technology as a way to sort through large amounts of satellite imagery and intelligence data. But the technology might also have non-military applications, says Stephen Brewster, who is also developing gesture-based computer interfaces at the University of Glasgow, UK.
"I think this is a very good idea," Brewster told New Scientist. "Hand gestures, unlike a mouse or pointer, work really well when data is represented on wall-sized displays, for example."
But Brewster notes that completely new user interfaces will inevitably require new ways of visualising and manipulating information. "The biggest benefit comes when you develop a new way of interacting altogether," he says.
Underkoffler has previously developed a method of representing and manipulating information by projecting it onto an ordinary table or wall, known as the Luminus Room. "The idea is to force graphics out of the monitor and into the real world," he says.