Blog posts related to Peripherals

Farewell mouse and keyboard?

Is it time to say farewell to our mice and keyboards? That is what Leap motion claims. In the past months, we have heard of many promising projects aiming to substitute mouse or keyboard input to a personal computer – an aspect of HCI discussed and researched for over a decade.

So what is the Leap? It is a USB device that allows us to interact with software on laptops and desktops, by sensing hand and finger movements in a very precise (claimed) way. Leap motion argues it is a breakthrough in HCI as it uses a mathematical approach to 3D, touch-free motion sensing and motion control software.

Leap motion also claims a limitless usage for this device,  as stated on their website, providing a few examples:

  • Artists can use The Leap to emulate a stylus or easily create 3D images.
  • Anyone can use The Leap to interact with Windows 7/8 or Mac OS X by clicking, grabbing, scrolling and using familiar gestures like pinch to zoom in 3D space.
  • Users pointing a pen at the signature line of a document to sign it in space.
  • Engineers can interact more easily with 3D modeling software.
  • Gamers can play more easily and many will modify with Leap in mind.
  • Surgeons can control 3D medical data with their hands without taking off their gloves.

The Leap is currently capable for interacting with Microsoft or MAC platforms, with Linux to follow. Pre-orders are out, for 69.99 USD for a limited number. In addition, Leap Motion is willing to distribute free developer kits to qualified people, in order  to promote the device and enable developers to “go for it”.

You can read all about it here. You can also check out their blog.

Robotic Kinect Hacks

After a brief period playing around with our layout we are back. Today we overview an article from IEEE Spectrum on Robotic related Kinect hacks, found here. Although Robotics are a bit out of our scope, we are fans of the Kinect and we could not pass on the information. We very much liked the autonomous Kinect vacuum concept, that would make our wives happier!

Kinect Quadrocopter STARMAC @ Hybrid Systems Lab, UC Berkeley

Kinect Quadrocopter STARMAC @ Hybrid Systems Lab, UC Berkeley

What is also noteworthy is that Microsoft is releasing a Kinect SDK, aimed for researchers and enthusiasts, enabling the latter to play around with the technology and create even more projects and buzz. We, at Synthetic Toys, are also contemplating future experimentation if our current batch of projects goes as planned!

HMD-less 3D

IEEE Spectrum has a very interesting article on HMD/Glass-less 3D systems on its December 2010 issue. You can read it here. The article presents past and recent efforts on creating 3D displays without using spectacle-type displays, discussing various techniques. We find the possibility of having 3D displays without the whole – arguably obtrusive – arrangement that comes with HMDs, quite fascinating. Some of the recent HMDs are indeed small and quite comfortable but at the end of the day we feel it would be more intuitive and… well, normal, not to wear them.

Panagiotis Ritsos with HMD

A not so normal pair of glasses

Nonetheless, as we understand it, the current systems work on a number of assumptions – such as distance from the screen, inter-ocular distance, posing certain usability restrictions.  Among the companies mentioned Nintendo, for example,  offers some adjustment for such variables in their prototypes in an effort to rectify these issues. Presumably an active (or real-time re-) calibration of the system could offer some transparency and independence to the user but that is a research subject on its own. Moreover, the techniques presented in the feature are governed – once again – by quality-cost-power consumption trade-offs, with obvious consequences on mobile usage such as portable game consoles or smart-phones. Still, the concepts are there and people keep pushing technology and that is the only way to go.

One aspect of 3D HMD displays, that the article comments on, is the ocular and non-ocular effects that often come as a result of HMD usage. In fact it is one of the aspects we on our past research efforts have examined to some extent. These issues, most often headaches and less often nausea and vomiting, are a true limitation of HMDs. Top that with with focus, luminance (for outdoor use), resolution, ghosting etc, things get messy quite fast. It is surprising – well maybe not so much if you want  to be cynical – that people do not mention these limitations when talking about ‘AR-hype’ . Arguably, the focus today is on handheld mobile AR, but nonetheless these limitations are present for years and researchers have investigated them to a large extent, particularly in the context of military simulators.

We know you can not market something when you focus or mention its problems (the aforementioned cynicism…) . As UX researchers though, in a broad sense, we need to take these things into consideration if we want to produce truly immersive and commercially successful systems.

Photorealistic Rendering for AR

Probably the most impressive examples of AR I have seen in a while. Finnish VTT Team has done some impressive work in the past and this example is nothing sort of spectacular in my book. The video was recorded a Dell laptop with a Quadro FX 3700M video card, a Core Duo processor and a basic Logitech webcam. The graphics itself is drawn using OpenGL and GLSL.

VTT’s description of the above video is:

Photorealistic rendering for Augmented reality. Uses soft shadows, indirect lighting and image quality matching. Various materials like glass, chrome or plastic are possible. Lighting is automatically determined from a ping pong ball.

For us it is a demonstration how realistic things can appear with modern hardware – albeit not of the ‘handheld’ type – and GFX APIs, hinting that the more we push the envelop and exploit technological advancement, the more immersive things will appear.

Kinect adventures

Kinect, the much awaited ‘controller-free gaming device’ has been very popular the last few days through the blogsphere and twitter (Wikipedia entry here). The offspring of Project Natal has been hacked by UC Davis visualization researcher Oliver Kreylos, using open-source drivers by Hector Martin. The same NUI group that hacked the PlayStation Eye in 2008 probably got there first but did not release drivers to the public.

Check the following videos by O. Kreylos on YouTube:

Very ‘funky’ videos! This can spire new work on 3D capturing and can not help wondering if more than one Kinect’s can be combined into something. We will keep an eye on Kinect-related hacks and research efforts.