Movies like Minority Report, make controlling your computer with little more then the swipe of your hand look easy. With the release of the Xbox Kinect the dream of this power coming to the masses has finally come true…well not exactly.
The Kinect has become the fastest adopted technology to date and that people are using their Kinect’s for everything from gaming to self-guided robots. A quick glance at YouTube is all you need to see tons of videos showing off all the Kinect can do. So why isn’t this the launching point into being able to control our computers with a wave of our hands?
In the real world, body based gestures is anything but simple and smooth. Though there are many people successfully experimenting with the Kinect, many of these experiments don’t translate into real world feasibility. I know this first hand as I too have enjoyed hacking the Kinect, as well as working with physical gesture based UI on more legitimate terms. In both cases it’s clear, regardless of technical limitations you won’t be controlling much beyond your Xbox with gestures. Below are the five biggest reasons why gestures won’t be breaking out of the box anytime soon.
- Accuracy: To be blunt, the Kinect is ridiculously underpowered. The resolution of the two cameras combined is under one megapixel (read: garbage). Which means the images used to create the 3D environment are blotchy and inaccurate (see photo above). To make matters worse, even still objects are hard to define as their edges dance about from frame to frame. The actual (circa 1994) video/webcam being used is nearly useless in low light (read: your living room) and it’s poor quality doesn’t provide enough useful information to work as a supplement to the 3D data.
- The Lazy Factor: Face it, people are lazy. No one wants to jump up and down, flail their arms just to control their TV or computer. Lazy or not, it’s actually physically tiring to hold your arm outright and use it like a pointing device. Even in filming Minority they had to keep taking breaks because of this. Still doubtful? Hold your arm out straight forward for a minute or two. Part of the beauty of the mouse, trackpad and small touch screens is the limited amount of movement needed to control everything on the screen.
- No Sensory Feedback: Think of how simple it is to use a standard remote for one’s TV, or dial a standard phone. You know where the buttons are, you can feel the difference between each button and you feel the button depress beneath your finger. None of these exist between you and the air, so it’s all a guessing game and muscle memory. Touch screens have a similar problem but to a much smaller degree since one can look to see where their fingers are and the device can provide some sort of feedback to signify it received your input. Some touchscreen devices employ some sort of haptic feedback to give their users a sign that their touch has triggered an action.
- Children: They love touch screen devices as it’s primal to touch things and even there UI’s need to account for their high energy actions and their potential. To the Kinect cameras a moving child is a bundle of potential gestures or they can just block the camera from seeing yours. Either way a little child is a potential plethora of problems. Older children bring their own issues, their curiosity and interest to explore new things is a plus. While their potential for shorter attention spans and limited patience are in conflict with the limited abilities of today devices.
- Is this thing on?: On the technical side, there’s a lot of guessing involve with figuring out when the user is gesturing to control the device or just waving hi to a friend. Most of the videos showing off the cool things you can do with the Kinect are short and in a controlled environment so this issue doesn’t become obvious to the viewer, but rest assured the folks in the video know exactly what I’m talking about here.
Kinect also offers voice support, which brings it’s own set of complications. On their own gesture and voice have a long way to go before they permeate market enough to matter. Both of these technologies are great as an secondary or companion input tools instead of being the primary option. Regardless of effectiveness, they offer a new and fun way to interact with the technologies around us.