Gesture computing is here! (And it's out of control!)

Each new in-air interface unveiled at CES comes with a different set of gestures to learn

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  • Marvell announced a new platform for voice and gesture control of smart TVs, gaming systems and home automation systems.
  • European telecom Orange and a company called Movea are working together on a set-top box controlled by in-the-air gestures. The difference with this product, called the SmartMotion Server, is that it's got a remote control unit that operates like a Wii remote -- it's the motion of the remote in your hand, not your hand itself, that controls the TV.
  • LG demonstrated a similar concept -- with an interesting twist. The LG Magic Remote lets you change to a specific channel by writing the number in the air while holding the remote. The remote also accepts voice commands.
  • Even car makers are looking at motion control. Demonstrating at CES and the upcoming Detroit Auto Show, companies like Hyundai are rolling out concept cars that enable drivers to control the audio system by waving their hands.
  • Moen even recently demonstrated a new faucet that is controlled by hand gestures.
  • And Intel is already working on the next generation of gesture control with its Perceptual Computing initiative. One feature allows you to control an interface by simply looking at it. The system tracks your gaze, and gives you more of whatever you're looking at.

Time to throw our hands in the air and give up?

All of these in-the-air gesture solutions are great in isolation. But when everything in our lives -- our computers, phones, tablets, TVs, cars and plumbing -- all get gesture control, and when they all use different gestures to do similar things, it's going to be frustrating, annoying and off-putting.

It's not just that the same action has different gestures on different platforms, the opposite is also true: The same gesture will do different things on different platforms. For example, closing your fist will change the channel on one system, grab a window on another, and mute the sound on yet another. One gesture, three different actions.

Anyone familiar with one system will be frustrated and confused when their muscle-memory makes the device they're using do unexpected actions.

What we really need is for the big players in the industry -- say, Microsoft, Samsung, Google, Apple and other heavyweights -- to get together in a standards body like they do with technologies like USB and Bluetooth and agree on standard hand gestures and how they work.

They probably won't do it -- each major player will try to patent their gestures and prevent others from doing it. But getting organized and coming to agreement for the sake of the users and the technology sure would be a nice gesture.

Mike Elgan writes about technology and tech culture. Contact and learn more about Mike at http://Google.me/+MikeElgan. You can also see more articles by Mike Elgan on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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