Gesture-Based Computing Is Happening, Just Like Sci-Fi Said It Would

This is the smart, tactile, multitasking user interface of my dreams.

Feb 5 2014, 10:00am
Images: Dizmo

Nerd confession: I once dreamed about controlling a user interface by waving my hands. Not like wished for, but actually went to sleep and had a dream that I was busy at work in front of an oversized computer screen, moving apps and widgets around the digital space with my hands—swiping windows off the screen when I was done with them, drawing on a word doc with a digipen, hyperlinking words with my fingers, dragging sticky notes and web pages onto a calendar app.

My dream-state vision wasn't quite the sci-fi virtual interface of Minority Report or Iron Man, but it was an awful lot like this "Dizmo" project that just launched on Kickstarter.

Dizmo is a portmanteau for digital gizmos, which is the Swiss company’s way of describing things like widgets and apps. The smart UI idea isn't new, but these folks have created the software to make the interactive web interface a downloadable reality—at least, if they reach their $25,000 goal.

How well Dizmo will actually work isn't clear yet, but if it accomplishes what the crowdfunding pitch is describing it’ll be pretty remarkable. Picture this: You've got your smart display, say an iPad or large display screen or a digital mat you spread out over the desk, and on it are dozens of widgets we use everyday—a weather app, a clock, a timer, a calendar, sticky notes, word docs, a video player.

You can move them around, resize them, zoom in and out, scroll, stack them on top of each other, combine them together—basically, interact with them just like you would a physical object but with the extra capability of the digital world. Tablets and windows already provide some of these features, but they're more limited.

"The traditional use of icons on a desktop screen was invented in the 70s and 80s, and we want to create something that brings digital content into 2014 in a natural and intuitive way," Dizmo founder Matthias Aebi said in today’s news release.

Now add to that the growing crop of apps controlling your connected gadgets and the interface can serve as an operating system for the Internet of Things—something all the major tech players are racing to develop. You've got your thermostat app, your baby monitor, your plant sensor, your smartwatch. And they can interact with each other and to the more basic digital gizmos on the platform.

The idea is, when you dock two widgets together on the Dizmo screen their functionality will integrate. So, stack your weather app and thermostat gizmo together and you can set your heat to come on whenever the temperature drops below 60. Or combine a hue light widget and the sensor monitoring your houseplants and the light will glow when it’s time to water them. The goal is to be a one-stop-shop control panel to visualize and control the wireless devices, sensors, and gadget populating the smart home.

It's the future guys. It might not be Dizmo that brings us there, but next-gen interfaces will be tactile, interactive, smart, connected to the network of physical things, integrated into every life, and hell, probably with some augmented and virtual reality thrown in there. (Dizmo + Google Glass?) It’s the present, too: Engineers at MIT recently developed a tangible 3D interactive display, and Elon Musk has his own gesture control Iron Man design technology going on over at SpaceX.

The Kickstarter describes a techno-domestic scene where you’ve got your online recipe pulled up and are cooking while keeping an eye on your Twitter feed and checking the latest headlines, and making a note to remember the dry cleaning. Basically it's a way to make it easier to multitask until our brains fry. Sounds like a dream.