Gesturing Like Tom Cruise


by Tim Moran

A gestural-computing interface is not something most of us think about much. Or think about at all. Yet it's an interesting concept: controlling digital activity through hand and arm motion. Movie buffs, of course, can point to the Tom Cruise movie Minority Report, which has some great scenes involving just such an interactive UI.

Has current technology caught up to Hollywood's version yet? Not quite, but software writers are making strides in that direction.

Co-designed by Lindsey Mysse --actually, he created it, with Robby Grodin, during a 24-hour hacking contest -- Toscanini (named after the intensely showy conductor) is supposed to be a bridge between movement and digital instruments. Mysse suggests that it can be thought of as akin to Microsoft's Kinect, "but for making weird performance art instead of playing Xbox." Mysse does say, however, that it could possibly do more than just make music: it might even be used one day to control a mouse.

A visit to the Toscanini site is revelatory: the thing is actually a watch. . .but a pretty high-tech watch. The free, alpha version of Toscanini software runs on a Texas Instruments' eZ430-Chronos, which, disguised as a simple sports watch, is really "a highly integrated, wearable wireless development system," replete with accelerometer, altimeter, pressure sensor, and more. It costs $50.

"You just put it on your wrist and make something happen," says Mysse. Maybe, but from the looks of the site and the video available there (cool but rudimentary demo), Toscanini is nowhere near ready for prime-time. . .much less a Tom Cruise movie.

Mysse and Grodin -- who must be way up there in the geek hierarchy to even think of something like this, much less be able to hack it -- see themselves as software impresarios who are considering building a "product ecosystem around the watch" that would involve paid applications and other musical accessories, created with 3D printing. Lofty goals for a couple of kids who just want to bring Toscanini and a dance company together. "That's our dream," said Grodin--as it is of every gestural-computing software developer the world over.