The natural human interface has been a huge theme at this year's CES.
Bill Gates talked up the Surface Computer and voice recognition in the car, Paul Otellini talked up the gesture-based interface of Nintendo Wii, and there were plenty of new ideas around interfaces exhibited on the trade show floor.
Natural human interfaces, ones that involve human movement, for example, tend to be incredibly engaging. It's rarely more noticeable than at CES--the crowds nearly always gather around those exhibits that provide some kind of interactivity. One of the most popular has been the WAVEscape advertising platform, developed by Reactrix and exhibited in partnership with Samsung.
WAVEscape is a stereo near-infrared vision system that sits above a television to enable interactions between viewer movement and content on the screen.
It uses a stereo 3D vision system to sense the distance of a person from the television. In the same way a person has two eyes to gauge proximity, the computer can get the full shape of everyone's body up to 15 feet away.
At CES, Reactrix demonstrated how users could stand in front of a Samsung LCD and interact with several games and information sites using the movement of their limbs.
The technology is being used as a means of engaging people in a public space for interactive display advertising. Reactrix's first big customer is Hilton Hotels, which will provide the technology in its lobbies and other public spaces to both entertain and provide information on hotel services.
WAVEscape was developed by Matt Bell, Reactrix's chief scientist and founder. It is inspired by an earlier product he invented called the Stepscape--a 2x3 meter interactive floor-projected display deployed in shopping malls and other public spaces that can sense a person's presence as they walk over it.
"We are using these technologies to reinvent out-of-home advertising," Bell said. "Most advertising outside of the home is billboards and digital signage. I describe this as glance media--you look at it for two seconds, if that, and then you move on. What we do is engage people, get them interacting. They have fun and therefore the advertiser loves it because the user remembers the message, and the venue is happy because the venue is more interesting."
Bell says users are 10 times as likely to recall the message of an interactive advertisement as a static one.
"It is a revolution in the way people relate to TVs," he said. "The TV is now able to sense you and respond to your wishes."
Beyond advertising, Bell sees applications in other verticals, such as education (pulling apart molecule diagrams on a classroom screen, for example) or as an attraction in a nightclub. "Ultimately this could be baked into any display to optimize the experience for whoever is using it," he said.
Eventually, he'd like to see it in the home.
"It will take a few years to make its way to consumer. Right now it's relatively bulky, but all of this will be shrinking as rapidly as we can so we can get it into the consumer market. In the home, you might be sitting on your couch and you gesture with your hand to change channel if you are sick of the program."
"Gestural interfaces are exciting because they are so natural," he concluded. "We communicate with body language. You get a display that's able to understand body language and that's very powerful."
Brett is a freelance journalist and musician who has written for ZDNet and CNET Australia among others, as well as music stories for the Sydney Morning Herald.