Welcome, Google, to the motion capture wingding, grab a chair over there beside Microsoft, Nintendo, Sony, Leap Motion, InvenSense and SoftKinetic. Google just snatched up Flutter, a startup specializing in gesture-driven camera control.
Wait, what’s Flutter? ”Kinect for OS X,” crows the company at the top of its iTunes Flutter app page, where for $4.99 you can download the hand gesture recognition app (it’s also available for Windows). Like Kinect, Flutter carves the world into tiny slices (Kinect uses infrared dots) and uses an ordinary webcam to parse simple hand signals. If you’re using a music player, palm up and fingers out means “play.” Make a fist, thumb out and to the right and you’re signaling “next song.” Flip your hand around so the thumb’s pointing to the left and you’re signaling “previous song.”
“We’re really impressed by the Flutter team’s ability to design new technology based on cutting-edge research,” wrote Google in a statement to the press.
Flutter, for its part, sounds positively twitterpated. Details of the deal are still hush-hush, but in a note on Flutter’s website, company CEO Navneet Dalal wrote: “Today, we are thrilled to announce that we will be continuing our research at Google. We share Google’s passion for 10x thinking, and we’re excited to add their rocket fuel to our journey.”
Google’s purchase is, of course, corporate cliché: instead of designing its own motion capture technology, Mountain View just bought someone else’s.
What for? Motion sensing tech still lives at the intersection of novelty and fad. Kinect for the Xbox 360 can be goofy fun if you’re into party games or inspirational for pop-up indie gewgaws, but it’s also pretty sloppy (a laggy mouse without a button, as John Carmack aptly put it). Nintendo’s Wii and Sony’s PlayStation Move offer superior accuracy but now you’re waving around kludgy remotes. Controller-free tech like Leap Motion, employing multiple IR cameras and LEDs in a desktop computing environment, has been somewhat better received, but as with Kinect, reviews of the product’s accuracy have been mixed.
My guess, and it’s a pretty safe, obvious guess, is that this is Google putting the proverbial toe in the water, not the preamble to a motion control product tsunami. Imagine subtle innovations, like interacting with Google Glass using hand gestures to trigger the camera or interact with other Glass apps. Maybe Google folds the technology into its camera-carrying Chromebooks (arguably the simplest, most obvious thing to do, since the tech already works with Windows and OS X) or does something with it for Android devices.
Or maybe longer term, with a behemoth like Google throwing money at the problem, Flutter can finally square the motion control circle — you know, the one where consumers are ultimately results driven, and today’s clumsy, gimmicky motion control tools aren’t.