Wednesday, April 06, 2011

April Fools’ prank adds Google to USC list

The University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies (USC) may have added Google to its list of researchers.

This follows the recognition of its April Fools’ prank into a real-life working prototype by the university.

Reports have it that the April Fools’ prank was Google’s ‘release’ of a new Gmail Motion application that purportedly allows users to control their Google mail (Gmail) inbox through the use of real-life gestures.

These gestures, reported Google, would be picked up by the users’ webcam and manipulated to perform a variety of common Gmail tasks like composing new messages, marking messages as unread, or deleting email.

Though a bit complicated, the gestures did evoke the image of one dancing around like a nut in front of Microsoft’s Kinect–the motion-tracking accessory for the Xbox 360 that translates players’ crazy real-life moves into in-game actions. We mention that as we do, for that’s the exact method and device used by the USC researchers to build their working Gmail Motion prototype.

And just to make it 100 per cent authentic, the team it was reported used its software–the Flexible Action and Articulated Skeleton Toolkit (FAAST)–to perfectly map Google’s joke gestures to actual Gmail actions.

“So, yes, the researchers have to shovel their arm over their head to reply to an email or, better still, lick their fingers and slap their knee to send the actual email,” part of the report read.

If UNC’s FAAST system sounds familiar, you might remember the software being used late last year to showcase how one could play World of Warcraft with one’s body.

According to the software’s landing page, it can track around 34 different motor actions using the Kinect, and most of these can be given additional qualifiers for degrees (if rotating) or inches (if moving). So, for example, firing off an in-game Frost Nova could be as easy as sticking your left foot in the air.

The researchers have yet to release the specific keybinding file that allow them to mimic Gmail Motion, but they promise that their FAAST software should work as downloaded. Provided you have a Kinect and a little bit of time to install some supplemental software, you’ll be that much closer to controlling your email with your hands–and we aren’t talking about your keyboard or your mouse.

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