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High-Tech Sign Language Could Replace the Mouse

G-speak's technology allows users to interact with computers using hand gestures.

May 31, 2006|Dawn C. Chmielewski | Times Staff Writer

"That's a paramount kind of use case for getting rid of the mouse," said McDowell, who is working on "Bee Movie," a 3-D animated film for DreamWorks. "I'm in exactly the same situation when I'm working with 3-D. If we're all working in a space that was G-speak friendly, I could gesture to where I want to go. I can physically work in that space, I can grab that figure or gesture to change that to red."

But gestural technology is not without its critics.

Ed Chi, senior research scientist at Palo Alto Research Center, which did pioneering work on the mouse, said new interfaces based on speech or hand gestures have limitations. Researchers discovered one of the most obvious drawbacks while developing virtual reality "caves," 3-D computer environments that let people explore the Lascaux caves or the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

"It turns out people are lazy," Chi said. "They don't want to move a lot to interact with their technology."

Other obstacles can be more problematic. For common human behaviors such as gestures or speech to replace the mouse, computers need to be placed in a particular "mode" to respond. Otherwise, it won't know to ignore the hand gestures made during casual conversation, or words spoken when answering a phone call.

It was just this such problem that derailed a promising new technology that used the glance of an eye to control the mouse cursor, Chi said.

"A small issue like this is enough to potentially kill a technology," Chi said.

One of the biggest obstacles may be inertia.

Charles Wolf, a computers and peripherals analyst with Needham & Co., said there was a reason the computer mouse has survived for all these years, despite other improvements to the computer. It's so easy to use.

"The new technology would really have to be compelling to get people to switch," Wolf said. "It would have to be dramatically easier to use, and I don't know if any such thing exists, despite the claims of this new company."

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