Sometimes, military researchers like to pretend that they aren't grabbing ideas from science fiction. Then there are times like these:A computer interface inspired by the futuristic system portrayed in the movie Minority Report... could soon help real military personnel deal with information overload.The film sees characters call up and manipulate video footage and other data in mid-air after donning a special pair of gloves. Now defence company Raytheon, based in Massachusetts, is working on a real version and has even employed John Underkoffler, the researcher who proposed the interface to the makers of the film."Pamela Barry, then a Raytheon Co. engineer, had a eureka moment while watching the... sci-fi flick," the Wall Street Journal reports. "Ms. Barry believed such a system could be a boon to the military as it tries to parse reams of information in the heat of a battle."
Commanders are increasingly unable to process the massive flow of intelligence from satellites, sensors and soldiers. To tackle that challenge, Mr. Underkoffler and Raytheon are devising ways to visually display and manage the data in a user-friendly way to quicken combat responses..."Keystrokes and mouse clicks limit your degree of freedom," says Mr. Underkoffler , who earned his doctorate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. By communicating with a computer through gestures, hands can do as much as five or six mice, he adds. "Your hand becomes a Swiss Army knife," he says.Raytheon, which has licensed Mr. Underkoffler's technology and unveiled it to Air Force and intelligence officials last week, aims to adapt it for use in future command centers. The idea is to streamline the disjointed and limited functions currently performed by scores of soldiers manning banks of individual PCs. In Raytheon's vision, real-time video and maps will be fused with database information on large interactive screens to assess battle situations.Raytheon has no plans to use psychically-sensitive crack babies to parse the information. Or, at least, not yet.