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Browsing the Web with a wave of the hand

A group of MIT students hacks Microsoft's Kinect technology to let computer users control a browser with nothing more than gestures.

Imagine if you could pray to your computer to stop the beach ball of doom from spinning, the blue screen of death from staring you in the face.

Perhaps someday sooner than we think, such a simple, palm-to-palm gesture might actually serve to trigger a series of operations that would lead to an appropriate fix.

As reported by Engadget and Read, Write, Web, a group of students at MIT's Media Lab has hacked around with Microsoft's Kinect gaming technology, Google's Chrome browser, and Javascript to allow Web surfers to manipulate a browser with nothing more than gestures.

The Fluid Interfaces Group is devoted to moving user interface design beyond the keyboard-and-mouse approach, and this recent Kinect-based project--called DepthJS--does just that, allowing Internet users to navigate through open browser tabs by way of mystical, Obi-Wan-like waving gestures and Bruce Lee-like fist moves. Other gesturally controlled browser and screen operations include scrolling, clicking links, panning around a page, and zooming.

Viewing the group's DepthJS video demonstration, it's not hard to imagine myriad applications and various benefits. As several readers of blog posts about the project have noted, it could be a godsend for Google TV couch potatoes. And as one particularly insightful reader pointed out, it could perhaps help mitigate carpal tunnel syndrome (though it might simply replace that affliction with some other condition--browser's elbow?).

As the Fluid Interfaces Group says on its Vimeo page, "Navigating the Web is only one application of the framework we built--that is, we envision all sorts of applications that run in the browser, from games to specific utilities for specific sites. The great part is that now Web developers who specialize in Javascript can work with the Kinect without having to learn any special languages or code. We believe this will allow a new set of interactions beyond what we first developed."

Developers can check out the DepthJS code on GitHub.