Helping hand: Flutter lets you play or pause music in iTunes or Spotify by holding up an open palm.
When Navneet Dalal listens to music on his computer, he doesn’t want any keyboard taps or mouse-button clicks to interrupt the experience. He’d rather just hold up an open palm to play or pause the tunes.
Dalal is cofounder of Flutter, a startup that offers simple software that lets users control ordinary computer apps with such simple gestures. Flutter emerges as gesture controls are becoming increasingly popular on consumer devices: Microsoft’s Kinect motion sensor brought it to the Xbox, and the company now sells a Kinect for Windows setup that encourages users to build applications using the technology. Samsung, meanwhile, has added gesture-control technology to some of its TVs.
Unlike existing gesture-control software that is only available on certain devices or that requires special hardware, Flutter harnesses a regular webcam. Anyone can download the free software, which was released in a public “alpha” testing phase last month (it’s currently available just for Macs). Flutter users can control the play and pause functions on iTunes and Spotify by holding up a flat, open palm.
If Dalal and his cofounder, Mehul Nariyawala, have their way, this will just be the beginning. With billions of laptops, smart phones, and tablets already featuring built-in cameras, and more on the way, Flutter envisions a not-so-distant future where you’ll be able to use gestures to control all sorts of applications and games. So far, the idea is catching on. Over 20,000 people have downloaded the software since it was released in March.
Flutter doesn’t use your computer’s webcam to look for movements; instead, it determines if an open palm is present or not. The program’s algorithms process the image information and determine what action to take. Again, those actions are currently limited to pausing or playing music or videos in iTunes and music in Spotify, but Flutter plans to enable more gestures and the ability to control more video content.
The company thinks gesture controls should be simple, and they want the act of controlling an application or game to feel natural. “We treat this webcam as the eye of the machine. And our thought process is that machines and humans should interact the way two humans with eyes should interact,” Nariyawala says.
While the Kinect requires time to calibrate when you start it up and is sensitive to sunlight, Flutter doesn’t need calibration time, Dalal says, and will work in any lighting conditions except complete darkness. Its software will also ignore background movement, such as someone walking behind you, he says.