I like tablet form factors, I really do.  I’d love to get one, but they don’t quite make my kind yet.

I need, need, need for there to be a stylus.  I’m a doodler.  Handwriting recognition is also a must.

I need it to be Android 3.1 or higher

An 8″ screen is about optimal, though I’d go down to a 7.  10″ might be too big for my purposes.

It’s got to have GPS sensors, 3G/4G data (unlimited preferred), wifi, NFS, accelerometers, gyro, etc.  I’m of the MOAR SENSORS! school of thought.

Lenovo has almost gotten there, according to this Ars Technica review, but not quite yet.

Soon though.  Soon.

Image Courtesy of: gesturetek.com

(Note – This article was first published by h+ Magazine, on May 12, 2010.  It’s republished here for my own archives.)

Chances are, you’re not using the same computer you were twenty years ago. But chances are, you’re still using the same basic user interface — a mouse for pointing, a keyboard for typing. While generations of hardware and software have come and gone, the paradigm for interacting with our machines has remained pretty much the same. But that’s slowly changing: Nintendo’s Wii system has gotten video gamers off the couch, Apple’s iPhone has acclimated us to using touch to control our devices, and a new generation of user-interface systems are beginning to come to the consumer market which promise more natural, intuitive, and engaging experiences.

Vincent John Vincent, president and co-founder of GestureTek, thinks next-generation user interfaces will be driven by movement. His company makes systems that use cameras and computer vision to watch a user’s movements, and then translate those movements into controls. “As the interfaces that we see on the screen become more dynamic and deep, with 3-D jumping off the screen or deeper into the screen, then the ability to reach out with your hand and manipulate them in that 3-D space is a much more natural way to go than just to have one point of control with the mouse,” Vincent said.

GestureTek has been building equipment and displays that respond to movement since the 1990s, according to Vincent. “We are the inventors and pioneers in this space, and luckily, early enough in it as well that we’ve been able to get a lot of patents on what we’ve done,” he said. “We’re very lucky that we were way ahead of our time for a long time, we sold thousands of installations of that technology, into museums and science centers and retail in various locations.”

“In the early 2000s, we started expanding and we created a number of different technologies that were interactive surfaces like floors and walls and windows and whatnot that would just be reacting to your motion and movement and being able to let people walk over those in front of them and just pick up your general gestures,” Vincent said. “We just found it to be very, not just natural, but engaging. It captures people’s attention, it makes the experience more entertaining and dynamic.”

And gesture controls are coming to a screen near you sooner than you might think — Microsoft’s Project Natal, which was announced at last year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, is due to be released by Christmas of this year. Project Natal promises a 3-D, depth-sensing camera peripheral for the Xbox 360, which will use software licensed from GestureTek to enable gamers to play without any controller at all, simply by using the movements of their body. Hitachi has demonstrated a prototype HDTV that uses an embedded 3-D camera to replace the traditional remote control. Users simply wave their hand to change the channel or turn down the volume. Mobile phone manufacturers such as DoCoMo have licensed software from GestureTek as well. “We looked at the mobile phone market and said well, there is a processor, a display and a camera, what a perfect product,” said Vincent. “So we took what we had already created and evolved it even more so that we could use a phone in the hand to act like a joystick, and the camera would watch how the phone was moving in relationship to the world, or you could gesture at the phone, etc.”

The availability of depth-sensing cameras is driving the speed with which these innovations are getting into the hands of consumers. “The depth cameras that are coming to the market use infrared light and three depth sensors, so that when an array of light is pulsed out into the environment, much like an ultrasound, it bounces back,” Vincent said. “The sensors can tell how quickly it’s come back and therefore build up a depth perception of the world in front of it. It’s very similar to ultrasound but done with light. Obviously, the lenses that are capturing that information are very sophisticated and that is what has kept them very expensive up till this point in time.”

Of course, those hardware costs will drop over time. And that means one day soon, you might be able to ditch that mouse once and for all.

Once again, a brilliant chop job by Everything is Terrible.  Great job, guys.


EMBED-Computability with Steve Allen – Watch more free videos

Joe Born, CEO of Chicago-based Neuros Technology, discusses the new Neuros LINK device.  Photo credit: Ian Monroe/Medill

Joe Born, CEO of Chicago-based Neuros Technology, discusses the new Neuros LINK device. Photo credit: Ian Monroe/Medill

Joe Born wants to change the way you use your television.

Born, chief executive officer, of Neuros Technology International, is an entrepreneur in the classic sense. He got his start in the 1990s with a patent on a device for repairing damaged CDs. Then in 2001, he started Chicago-based Neuros Technologies, which started out making portable digital audio products, much like Apple’s ubiquitous iPod.

On Wednesday at the Neuros headquarters downtown, Born showed off his company’s newest innovations. In a small conference room with whiteboards scrawled with notes and flowcharts mounted on exposed brick walls, he walked through the operation of the Neuros LINK, a device that is known in technical circles as a “media extender.” A media extender enables users to access digital media such as MP3s and movies stored on a home computer, and then watch or listen to them on a television or living room stereo.

“Joe Born is an important pillar of Chicago’s technology community,” said Michael Krauss, co-chair of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley’s Council of Technology Advisors. “He’s a true entrepreneur and inventor that has succeeded more than once, and is challenging convention with his Neuros products.”

The thing that sets Neuros’ products apart from many of their competitors is the emphasis the developers put on using open hardware and software systems as much as possible, instead of building proprietary, closed systems that leave the user at the mercy of the company that built them. “These products are all open source, all the source code is out there,” Born said.

He added that the LINK was Neuros’ most open device to date, and it relies heavily on community-driven development and open software.

The Neuros LINK device, photo courtesy of Neuros Technology

The Neuros LINK device, photo courtesy of Neuros Technology

The Neuros LINK is basically a PC designed to be the “brain” of the entertainment center in the living room. It’s a full-featured machine that is specially designed for audio and video applications. It runs on open-source Ubuntu Linux and uses open-source XBMC as media center software.

The device streams video from a home server or network attached storage, and supports a wide variety of video and audio formats. It sports high-speed ethernet and wireless connectivity, and will play back web video from sources, such as Hulu, Amazon, and YouTube.

Soon Neuros LINK will support Netflix Instant Viewing streams as well. It outputs video and audio over HDMI, meaning it plugs  directly to a high-definition television with a minimum of hassles. It also supports six-channel audio and optical audio outputs.

Born says that the LINK fills a void in the current living-room electronics market. “On one end, there’s a full-fledged home theater PC, of whatever stripe or variety you want,” Born said. “Apple has the Mini, which is sort of in the low end of that vein … and then it goes all the way up to $2,000 or $3,000 machines, generally big, noisy, full keyboard, but no real navigation. On the other end you have AppleTV, Tivo, Roku [a device that streams movies from Netflix], a whole host of embedded devices, but each of those is very limited, it’s a cross section, and it doesn’t have that comprehensiveness. So the LINK [is] a box that is slimmer and has more friendly navigation, but gives you the comprehensiveness of the Internet.”

Neuros.tv is a website designed to complement the Neuro LINK home theater PC. It aggregates online video sources, and sorts videos in an intuitive way. Search for ABC’s “Lost” for instance, and Neuros.TV will return the results sorted by season, with the newest episodes first.

Born said the final version will remember which episodes you’ve already watched, and will highlight the ones you have yet to see. Because it pulls in results from other video services, such as Joost, Hulu, YouTube and FanCast, hundreds of shows are available immediately, on demand. The Neuros.TV site works on any computer, but also has an interface optimized for viewing directly on your television via the Neuros LINK hardware.

The Neuros LINK is currently in what the creators are calling the “Gamma Program,” a sort of public beta testing phase. The software and interface are still undergoing substantial development, but the device is available for sale at a small number of retailers, mostly to early-adopters and hackers that want to try out the platform and contribute to the development efforts.  The LINK is priced at $299, about the same as an Xbox 360.  Born said that this testing phase is essential to get the system refined to the point that everyday users can feel comfortable with the device.

“Having stuff that works, and the details ironed out is vitally important,” Born said. “You can look at doing this yourself, and you can get it 90 percent of the way there, but if you really expect it to be a consumer product that you can sell and someone can just drop in their house, then 90 percent  is not nearly good enough.”

Technology writer Ryan Paul previewed the LINK on the Web site ArsTechnica.com, and wrote, “for experienced Linux users, it just takes a little bit of the usual tweaking to get everything working just right. After that initial time investment, I haven’t had any trouble with it at all. It gives me everything I want in an Ubuntu-based set-top box, and it offers a broad assortment of options for third-party media center software.”

Born is confident that devices such  the LINK constitute an important next step in the evolving media environment. “It’s a very, very exciting and disruptive time; predicting the exact winners and losers and the exact time line is very difficult, but you can’t help but look at this and say, this is going to change everything.”

Note: This article was first published on the Medill Reports website on 4/15/2009.  Some edits were made for this version, now posted for my own archives.

Starting today until the beginning of June, I’m working on Health/Science reporting.

My beat is Technology/Gadgets/Nanotech. If you should happen to have any good tips on these subjects, please please contact me and clue me in (ian at ianmonroe.com). I finally have a beat that I can write about with some kind of clarity, so I’m looking to make it as interesting as possible.

Thanks in advance!