I am continuing an interaction with a research group that works in virtual reality and augmented reality this week. Some 5 years ago, I was working with Jim McGuire to make the world’s first pair of seethrough augmented reality displays, seen below. They were quite nice, I thought. Clearly, after peddling them around the world for 3 years, what do I know? They are now on a shelf with a long line of nice prototypes, at the ODALab at the University of Rochester. But, we digress.
A very nice ophthalmic quality seethrough display – very nice, on the shelf awaiting the next generation to displace it.
On the positive side, I saw a very inspiring research project this week in France at the University of Bordeaux 3, (or was it 4) aimed at our work environment in optical design, which led to the following. Prof. Rolland, who is traveling with me, pointed out that there are people who think about fundamental things like, what would the world be like if the mouse/touch pad technology had failed, for whatever reason. In her case, they were thinking about this at the University of North Carolina in the 90s, and here in France, they are still thinking about it.
I have noticed, off and on, that the environment for interaction seems to be shrinking. Ever since we replaced our continuous roll Calcomp plotter (who remembers those), I have been bothered. We still use the Calcomp plot driver as the basis for plotting. But, why would we abandon an interface that is limited in 1-dimension for one that is limited in 2-dimensions (single sheet printers). I’m the guy who in the dying days of Calcomp bought a 48”x continuous plotter – how cool was that (no one would walk down the hall to get the output)? I was told it was so much more convenient with a 2-D constraint, it fit on your desktop. This is a reason? So, continuing the trends, now I spend my day staring at a 10-14” space interacting with a key board and a touch pad. Now, touch pads are pretty amazing things, but, why is the space shrinking like this? Whoever stood around a drafting board developing new concepts? If you’re under 40, you probably have never seen a drafting table.
So, at least some people seem to have noticed this problem and they are bringing back the large format environment. In fact, I think I’ll go invest in drafting board companies, if any are left. I’m definitely looking for a drafting board when I get back – I think the last time I saw one was 10 years ago as it was wheeled out of the office, took too much space in the assigned 88 sq. ft. This whole push to lean and mean has left us just that lean on input and cranky (or is that from a different source).
So, what is new is Kinect; a device that can sit on a drafting board or other substantial work space (think 36” x 48” replacing 10” x 14”) and track your hands and your fingers for $100. It can learn (OK, be taught, hence the research project) how you want to interact with the workspace. You are no longer continuing to be squeezed into a more efficient space. You are moving back to higher bandwidth of visual data input, but, this I consider good. Why compute all this information and never even see it? When combined with a projector above the table ($1,000 and a camera $100), now you have a new space, with space. We have all this computing power creating data and we continue to shrink the space that the output is being reported to so that our office can be smaller, it’s madness. Remember the 10”x14” space? I decided to measure, it’s actually 8”x13”. What is it after the icons and tool bars and navigators that are hiding all the screens I would like to be seeing real-time? I just measured my CODE V command mode active area, 6”x10”. And I want at least 8 graphics windows in that space to make sure I am always trying to see the text underneath (now, to the credit of Dave Hasenauer, at least we have the TOW options that tabs the windows). It is out of control. Time for a reset.
So, watch for updates – this could get interesting again, I hope. Or, it could follow the glasses, to the prototype history shelf.