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Bringing 'Minority Report' touchless gestures to Windows 8

A sort-of startup unveils ultrasound technology to enable gestures in the air, and hopes to get it into consumer electronic devices within the next year.

Elliptic Labs

Elliptic Labs wants to bring the touchless gesture controls seen in the science-fiction film "Minority Report" to everyday consumer electronic devices, starting with Windows 8.

The company -- a Norwegian university spinout with offices in Oslo and Silicon Valley -- unveiled a set of tools to help consumer electronic companies enable touchless controls in their products. These would be similar to the kind of gesture controls seen with the Xbox 360 Kinect and in certain smart televisions like a few models from Samsung Electronics, but presumably would work more smoothly.

That's because the Elliptic device won't use a camera like the Kinect or Samsung television. Instead, Elliptic's technology is based on ultrasound and employs multiple microphones in the device. The ultrasound technique has a much wider field of view, doesn't require lights, and is more responsive, according to Morhan Kjolebakken, product manager for the company.

"The really big difference is you can do a lot of things with Windows 8 much more naturally," he told CNET.

Elliptic's announcement today includes the system, which has a set of touchless gestures programmed for each control found in Windows 8, a software development kit for developers looking to embrace touchless controls, and a "start kit" for developers and manufacturers looking to integrate the technology into products.

The company is talking with a number of partners on incorporating the technology into products, Kjolebakken said, adding that he expects products to come out over the next 12 to 14 months. He said that manufacturers have expressed interest in the company's technology.

Elliptic doesn't believe it's a big step for manufacturers. Beyond a few extra microphones, a company needs to add a few "ultrasonic transducers" to capture the gestures.

While the first step has been to integrate the controls with Windows 8 laptops and PCs, Kjolebakken said that he expects tablets and smartphones to eventually get the feature. Down the line, he sees the potential for cars to get gesture controls as well.