Gestural controls are getting a fair amount of coverage in the press lately, and with good reason. Devices like Myo and Leap Motion have had very high pre-order sales numbers for essentially unproven technology. That says a lot about the public’s interest in gesture-based control. Or is it the latest technology fad?

What problem are they trying to solve?
I’ve used a Kinect pretty extensively, with varying degrees of success (I will one day defeat you, Wipeout 3), and I’m getting pretty good at waving my hand like a maniac to turn the motion sensor lights on at work. So this week I purchased a Leap Motion and spent quite a bit of time testing its capabilities. I was mainly interested in how it could affect my daily productivity – email, web browsing, etc. Unfortunately the results were not great (full disclosure: I was testing it on Windows® 7). With accuracy of up to 1 mm, there was still too much jitter when performing the click gesture. It would begin to click, then lose the signal, then begin to click again… I imagine this would just get worse as your caffeine intake increases over the day.

As my arm was beginning to tire, I realized that I didn’t understand what problem this technology was trying to solve. The Leap Motion connects via USB cable, so replacing your mouse doesn’t change the number of cables on the desk. There are many touch-based, WiFi-enabled hardware solutions to choose from these days, too, so is it just so I don’t have to get out of my chair to interact with the room controls? I honestly don’t know. Don’t get me wrong though, there’s definitely a place for gestural controls – the Kinect was a true useful innovation for console gaming. We’ve even used a Kinect to control our daVinci™ software to see what was possible.

What about voice-activated controls? Car manufacturers are increasingly including hands-free capabilities in their vehicles for phone service, music adjustments, even temperature controls. From my personal experience, Siri is useful in some situations, and in others a slow decent into madness (I want to find where a movie’s playing, not order Chinese food).

I’m curious why more AV companies aren’t working on a voice-based control system, although perhaps they are and the products are simply not ready to reveal to the public. Is it also because people need a certain amount of tactile interaction with our environments to feel comfortable? Take Star Trek for example. They had a voice-activated computer to which you could literally say “make me a sandwich”, and it would! But then everyone had these consoles in front of them full of buttons and lights. When you want to go to warp speed, why did they have to press a button? Why not just say “go to warp speed”? I realize that in Klingonese that would involve a lot of spitting, so I’m good with the button-pushing there. Really.

Long live “The Clapper”
I am in full support of getting rid of cords whenever possible, and it’s great that companies are developing gesture-based controls because they show a lot of promise. However, the technology is not mature enough for widespread adoption at this time – they’re all still too quirky. Long term, I think a blend of voice-based and gesture-based control is where consumers will find the most comfortable niche. So long live “The Clapper”, a product ahead of its time.