Future Macs will likely offer gesture recognition

Gesture recognition for Macs is coming -- well, actually, it’s already here, though not from Apple, though I imagine our favorite tech company has its own plans in for this technology.

Gesture recognition is when your computer interprets human gestures via mathematical algorithms. Said gestures can originate from any bodily motion or state, but usually come from the arm or face. 

Leap Motion is the first company to bring gesture computing to the Mac. It’s the $79.99 Leap Motion Controller and provides a 3-D workspace that recognizes intuitive gestures. The folks at San Francisco-based Leap Motion say it’s the first product in history to accurately sense the individual movements of all 10 of the user’s fingers, and can also track objects like a pen.

Leap Motion CEO and co-founder Michael Buckwald says computing tasks ranging from simple to complex can now be accomplished with natural hand and finger movements. Uses of the Leap include:

Basic computing tasks like navigating an operating system or browsing through Web pages;

  • Precise virtual drawing in 2-D and 3-D;
  • Signing a digital document by writing in air;
  • Navigating large-scale 3-D data visualization systems;
  • Creating and manipulating 3-D models like houses and cars;
  • Playing computer games, including fast-twitch first-person shooters.

Future applications from developers could include medical imaging, robotics, unique art creations, computer-aided design, virtual-reality environments, training simulators for complex manual tasks and more. The Leap plugs directly into a USB port -- and comes with software that must be installed -- and calibrates in one step, allowing users to begin controlling their computers with natural hand and finger movements. 

Another company, Thalmic Labs, has their own motion sensing product for the Mac: the $199 MYO. Designed as a one-size-fits-all armband, it lets you use the electrical activity in your muscles to wirelessly control your computers, phone and other digital devices.

According to the folks at Thalmic Labs, the MYO senses gestures and movements in two ways: 1) muscle activity, and 2) motion sensing. When sensing the muscle movements of the user, the device can detect changes in hand gesture right down to each individual finger. When tracking the positioning in space of the arm and hand, the device can detect subtle movements all directions.

What of Apple itself? The company is certainly looking into gesture-based computing. Apple has filed multiple patents that are at least partially involve the technology. They include:

  • Patent number 20120036433 for "three dimensional user interface effects on a display by using the properties of motion." "With the position of the user's eyes and a continuous 3D frame-of-reference for the display, more realistic virtual 3D depictions of the objects on the device's display may be created and interacted with by the user," says Apple. 
  • Patent number 8018579 for a "three-dimensional imaging and display system" in which user input is optically detected in an imaging volume by measuring the path length of an amplitude modulated scanning beam as a function of the phase shift thereof. Visual image user feedback concerning the detected user input is presented.
  • Patent number 20100149099 for a motion sensitive mechanical keyboard. It's for a "motion sensitive mechanical keyboard configured to enable a standard look and feel mechanical keyboard to sense hand/finger motion over the surface of the keys."