3D gestures: Coming to a screen near you

Videos show how touchscreens may soon morph, given the rapid developments in spatial gesture technology

Two's a coincidence, three's a trend. There's truth to that old reporter's expression. In this case, there are three examples of a new kind of gesture technology coming to a mobile device or computer near you. Apple's iPhone introduced the world to gesture-based computing, changing how we interacted with first smartphones, then all sorts of screens, including point-of-sales terminals and ATMs. (Yes, the technology existed previously, but the iPhone made it common.) When you see a screen in front of you, your instinct is now to touch it, right?

Touchscreens are in for a change; they're about to leave their 2D Flatland behind and support more complex gestures in three dimensions. The Microsoft Kinect gaming console's motion-detection capability kicked off the spatial gestures trend two years ago, but it's not suited to computer gestures' fine movements.

[ Hands-on with the Leap 3D gesture device. | Subscribe to InfoWorld's Consumerization of IT newsletter today. ]

You've probably heard of Samsung's infrared-based touchless gesture support in the forthcoming Samsung Galaxy S 4. It uses IR beams to detect where your hands are when over -- but not on -- the screen, to detect gross movements like waving your hand. IR is a low-resolution technology, which is why the Galaxy S 4's touchless gestures are fairly primitive. You can see the technology in action here (go to the 30-second mark):

Both Sony and Huawei have announced camera-based 3D gesture detection; Sony has a limited version in its Xperia Sola smartphone, but Huawei hasn't yet brought the technology to market on its smartphones, citing the need for more power graphical processors and two front-facing cameras.

Leap Motion's $80 Leap controller -- due to ship this spring -- is more sophisticated. The small box plugs into a Windows PC's or Mac's USB port, then uses two cameras and three IR sensors in concert to detect movement of your fingers or other objects in the "airspace" above it. The technology could be miniaturized for use in smartphones and tablets, though that's not likely to happen any time soon given the hardware burden it would impose. But it's no stretch to see the technology incorporated into desktop and laptop monitors or perhaps even in keyboards.

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