Gesture controls, like Leap Motion, could bring a slew of new control paradigms to desktop computing. But will any of us want to wave our hands in the air all day long? Probably not.
That’s the premise behind SpaceTop, developed at MIT Media Lab by Jinha Lee (who you know from this and this) with Alex Olwal, Hiroshi Ishii, and Cati Boulanger. It’s a transparent monitor that tracks your bare hands through Kinect, then enables you to manually grasp windows and other objects to manipulate them.
That unto itself is pretty neat, but in its latest update, the project has a fantastic new trick. Watch the video closely, and you’ll see that underneath each window a drop shadow is formed. These drop shadows are actually makeshift trackpads, enabling a user to manipulate an object in 3-D space one moment, then rest their hands on the table and scroll around content the next.
"We wanted people to benefit from lazy, low-effort computer interaction experience—and the expressive, 3-D interaction," Lee explains. "SpaceTop is designed to accommodate these different interactions very easily."
The fact of the matter is, some gestures just feel better in 2-D. Flipping through windows and reshaping objects feel natural with your hands floating in the air. But selecting single lines of text, or even individual words, requires a surgical level of precision in 3-D space that’s simply not all that comfortable. SpaceTop is really about more than the single, highly specialized system of hardware you see here. It’s playing with a new paradigm of control, built for a future when no single paradigm overshadows all others like the mouse does today. Instead, it’s imagining a time when multiple inputs, like gesture and voice, are simply always on, always awaiting that moment in your workflow when they get to shine, seamlessly.
"I don’t believe 3-D is the future. It just opens up new possibilities, allows you to do new things with a computer," Lee says. "For everyday tasks, there are some beautiful [interactions] that we already have."