Using a keyboard and mouse to interact with your PC is so passe:  here’s what we can look forward to.

ThalmicLabsMYOpic Can motion trackers and controllers change the face of consumer electronics?

The use of motion trackers and motion controllers is growing by leaps and bounds. They are being used in a lot of devices such as smartphones, tablets, laptops, gaming consoles and even televisions.

The first mass market usage of a motion tracker was seen on the Apple iPhone, which made use of an accelerometer that assisted the device in changing its orientation to either portrait or landscape. Today, every smartphone comes with an accelerometer, with some high-end models featuring a 3-axis gyroscope (yet another form of motion sensing).

The Nintendo Wii with its motion controller showed us that games can be much more interactive and fun than just sitting on a couch and pressing a button. It used a Wiimote (or Wii Remote Controller), which had motion sensing capability that could be used to control games by identifying natural human motions. Microsoft and Sony thought that the Wiimote was “just an experiment”, but after the unexpectedly high positive reception it got, they started investing in motion controllers of their own. This resulted in the creation of the Microsoft Kinect sensor and the PS3 Move controller.

The Playstation 3 Move controller was more in-line with the Wiimote, and offered similar functionality. The Kinect sensor (formerly Project Natal), on the other hand, was an accessory that connected to Xbox 360 and had two cameras that tracked a user’s movements. It could detect multiple individuals, and this led to a host of games that made use of the sensor, like Kinect Adventures. The sensor identifies motion and translates that to in-game actions, negating the need for a controller. For instance, in a tennis game, a user can stand in front of the sensor and make a forehand serve motion, and the sensor identifies this and undertakes that action in-game. Games like WiiSports (on Nintendo Wii) and Dance Central (On Xbox 360 with Kinect) have been runaway successes because they increase the interactivity between the players off screen.

Can Leap Motion controllers look to overhaul the keyboard and mouse?

Yet another form of motion controller and tracker is Leap. It is a small attachment that can be connected to a PC or a Mac to track your fingers in real space. The makers of Leap say that they envision a future wherein you use your fingers for interacting with your PC instead of a keyboard and mouse. Users can grab, move, stretch or pull the objects on the screen as if they were real world objects, similar to what was shown in the movie Minority Report.

HP has already including the Leap Motion controller in a few HP pavilion laptops. For all its advocated benefits, the controller is not as accurate as a touchscreen, nor does it come with force feedback. Leap does give an extra dimension (depth) to control space, but there is work that needs to be done to further the medium.

If motion controllers cannot be used for fine-tuned things like moving a cursor, they can find utility somewhere else. A use case for motion controllers is smart TVs, where a user can browse through channels by using hand gestures. This is exactly what Samsung has done with its latest batch of smart TVs.

Another interesting device that has come to light is Myo, a motion tracker from Thalmic Labs. It is a wearable armband that has sensors which track your muscle movements, and relays that information over Bluetooth to your devices. It comes with a nine-axis IMU (inertial measurement unit) that is said to be able to recognize the slightest of changes in hand orientation.

Apple is also looking to get into the motion tracking game as it was announced that it acquired PrimeSense, the original creator of Project Natal, for around $350 million. According to rumors, this might be related to the upcoming Apple TV sets that might use gesture control.

Companies like Apple, Google, Microsoft, Sony and Amazon have spent, or are getting ready to spend millions of dollars just to identify the opportunities in motion tracking and controlling. With even more varieties of motion trackers and motion controllers getting to the market, the consumer electronics can look forward to even more revolutionary interfaces in the near future. We can even look forward to the kind of interface that was shown off in the Iron Man movies, if Elon Musk has anything to say about it.