Move Over, Minority Report

I guess I'm the last person on the Web to learn about Jeff Han's straight-outta-Minority Report multi-touch screens. But add me to the just about endless list of folks who find the displays beyond cool -- almost like a dream about how computers should look and act. (Here's a video of Han and the screens in action.)han_vid.JPGIn this month's Fast Company, Defense Tech pal Adam Penenberg has the lowdown on how the screens came to be -- and where we might see them in the future. Not surprisingly, the Defense Department is extremely interested. Here's a snip from Adam's story:

Suppressing a smile, Han told the assembled brain trust that he rejects the idea that "we are going to introduce a whole new generation of people to computing with the standard keyboard, mouse, and Windows pointer interface." Scattering and collecting photos like so many playing cards, he added, "This is really the way we should be interacting with the machines." Applause rippled through the room. Someone whistled. Han began to feel a little bigger.But he was far from finished. Han pulled up a two-dimensional keyboard that floated slowly across the screen. "There is no reason in this day and age that we should be conforming to a physical device," he said. "These interfaces should start conforming to us." He tapped the screen to produce dozens of fuzzy white balls, which bounced around a playing field he defined with a wave of the hand. A flick of a finger pulled down a mountainous landscape derived from satellite data, and Han began flying through it, using his fingertips to swoop down from a global perspective to a continental one, until finally he was zipping through narrow slot canyons like someone on an Xbox. He rotated his hands like a clock's, tilting the entire field of view on its axis--an F16 in a barrel roll. He ended his nine-minute presentation by drawing a puppet, which he made dance with two fingers.
But Han is doing more than just designing the next generation of computer interfaces. He's also got a pair of contracts with Darpa...
...including one involving visual odometry: Modeling his work on the brain of a honeybee, Han has been looking for ways to make a computer know where it has been and where it is going -- part of an attempt to build a flying camera that would be able to find its way over long distances. Han has also made it to the second round of a DARPA project to create an autonomous robot vehicle that can traverse terrain by learning from its own experiences. The goal: to perfect an unmanned ground combat vehicle that could operate over rough trails, in jungles or desert sand, or weave through heavy traffic as if it had a skilled driver behind the wheel.
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