Natural Computing: Natural User Interfaces open up enormous opportunities to address societal and economic challenges
Early December 2011, we started a new guest speakers’ series to talk about future technology trends and their impact on our work and life.
For our first event, we focused on Natural User Interface (NUI), a more natural way for people to interact with technology. NUI refers to both sensory inputs such as touch, speech and gesture but goes much further to describe computing that is intelligent and contextually aware, with the ability to recognise a person’s face, environment and intent, even emotions and relationships.
Our first speaker, Bernard Ourghanlian, argued that technologies many of us have seen in sci-fi and action films, like Back to the Future and Minority Report, are coming to life. Bernard introduced Microsoft’s vision behind NUI by highlighting the trends urging our researchers to turn those imagined NUI technologies into reality. One such trend is the interconnectivity of consumer devices via the internet (internet of things), and the explosion of data that contributes to making computers appear more intelligent. By inputting relevant data into interconnected devices, computing devices are shifting from daily tools to daily helpers. Bernard shared a video which summarises Microsoft’s vision of where NUI can take us if we keep imagining and innovating.
Using Microsoft Kinect, a motion sensing input device, Laurent Grumiaux from Fishing Cactus, showed our audience how this NUI technology has been developed beyond its original gaming purposes. Fishing Cactus (a games developer start-up from Belgium) partnered with therapists to create a serious game called ROGER for people who lack cognitive skills. Laurent demonstrated the game to the audience and shared the challenges they are facing when they develop programmes for NUI devices. A challenge he highlighted is the lack of commonly agreed gestures (such as the wide-spread double-click in graphical user interfaces) to activate or use different NUI devices.
Finally, Thomas Husson from Forrester Research wrapped-up Bernard’s and Laurent’s arguments and emphasised that technology trends, societal and economic needs are helping turn imagined technologies into a reality. For example, Thomas explained how television remote controls paved the way to touch screen gadgets like smart phones, tablet devices and surface devices. From businesses, to homes, to the classroom, highly-portable touchscreen gadgets are increasing connectivity and creating new opportunities. Furthermore, motion and voice control interfaces are fast becoming available to a wider consumer audience. Kinect is a consumer device which has motion and voice control capabilities – it sold in mass amounts fairly quickly when it hit the retail market in November 2010. Thomas also highlighted that consumers are choosing smarter phones with voice control capabilities and apps that would make their lives easier.
Imagined technologies are coming to life thanks to innovative minds. To fuel your imagination further, please check out this video.
Our next event, in February 2012, will look at “social computing”.