A good friend of mine works for a radio communications company. Ask him about his vision of the future, though, and he’ll sound like he’s quoting a science-fiction movie. “We might not even need radios!” he enthuses. “Maybe I’ll be able to just think something and a person in the other room will hear me.”
The first time I heard him say that, I thought it sounded pretty silly. But two recent technological developments have blown my mind so completely that I’m no longer sure my friend isn’t onto something with his prediction.
The first is a gesture-based device called Leap Motion. “The Most Important New Technology Since The Smart Phone” screams the headline in MIT’s Technology Review. It’s coming this December, it plugs into your computer, and if you’ve seen the movie “Minority Report” you already know how it works: lift your hand in front of the screen, flick it this way and that, and control your virtual environment as effortlessly as you control the hand itself.
The video is extraordinary. The device is only $70. And, as it turns out, gesture-based control is actually dramatically faster and more sensitive than any method involving friction. Just quickly, imagine writing something in the air. Now imagine writing it on paper. By comparison, the pen feels heavy, the paper an unnecessary hindrance, the connection between the two an undesirable impediment.
If Leap Motion’s Tom Cruise gadget isn’t amazing enough for you, there’s always Mick Ebeling. I met Mick, who founded the Not Impossible Foundation, last year; the story he told was simultaneously heartbreaking and inspirational. Mick’s friend Tempt, a graffiti artist, suffers from ALS and is almost entirely paralyzed; all he can do is blink. In response to Tempt’s condition, Mick and a posse of passionate people created the EyeWriter: a device built with open-source technology and off-the-shelf materials that allows Tempt to draw by moving his eyes, blinking to put the pen down and blinking again to pick it back up.
As I said: heartbreaking and inspirational. And, when I caught up with Mick in New York last month, he doubled down on both of those attributes. Sadly, Tempt’s condition has deteriorated. The deliberate blinking required by the EyeWriter has become challenging. (Blinking, of course, is an effortless act until you have to do it purposefully 10 or 20 times in a row; then it becomes tiring.)
Tempt’s condition has deteriorated, so Mick’s efforts have intensified. He and his team have made a version of the EyeWriter that works on EEG waves: move the eyes to move the pen, think to pick it up, think to put it back down.
Even more awesome: apparently think is faster than blink, so the new device is faster and more sensitive than the old one. Like gesture-based vs. touch-based, the less friction in the system, the more efficiently it operates.
I suppose I should stop being amazed by new technology, should stop sounding like I grew up during the first World War and had to walk 20 miles through the snow to get to school. But, seriously, this stuff is freaking cool.
If you’ve got comments, you can write them below -- or you can try just thinking them at me. I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if your ability to do so was right around the corner.