Jan 122010
 
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

The technology industry is going retro — moving away from remote controls, mice and joysticks to something that arrives without batteries, wires or a user manual.

It’s called a hand.

In the coming months, the likes of Microsoft, Hitachi and major PC makers will begin selling devices that will allow people to flip channels on the TV or move documents on a computer monitor with simple hand gestures. The technology, one of the most significant changes to human-device interfaces since the mouse appeared next to computers in the early 1980s, was being shown in private sessions during the immense Consumer Electronics Show here last week. Past attempts at similar technology have proved clunky and disappointing. In contrast, the latest crop of gesture-powered devices arrives with a refreshing surprise: they actually work.

“Everything is finally moving in the right direction,” said Vincent John Vincent, the co-founder of GestureTek, a company that makes software for gesture devices.

Manipulating the screen with the flick of the wrist will remind many people of the 2002 film “Minority Report” in which Tom Cruise moves images and documents around on futuristic computer screens with a few sweeping gestures. The real-life technology will call for similar flair and some subtlety. Stand in front of a TV armed with a gesture technology camera, and you can turn on the set with a soft punch into the air. Flipping through channels requires a twist of the hand, and raising the volume occurs with an upward pat. If there is a photo on the screen, you can enlarge it by holding your hands in the air and spreading them apart and shrink it by bringing your hands back together as you would do with your fingers on a cellphone touch screen.

The gesture revolution will go mainstream later this year when Microsoft releases a new video game system known at this time as Project Natal. The gaming system is Microsoft’s attempt to one-up Nintendo’s Wii.

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