You don't need the remote, just wave your hand!
You don't need the remote, just wave your hand!

In some households, fighting over the TV remote is a raging nightly battle. In mine it’s more of a cold war detente. Either way, by the end of next year Hitachi (NYSE: HIT) may take the conflict to a whole new level. Working with Canesta and GestureTek, the Japanese electronics giant has created a line of television sets that will be able to recognize a viewer’s hand gestures. Instead of a remote control, you can just wave your hand in the right way to change channels or volume. Check out the video after the break to see Hitachi’s demonstration at CES from earlier this year.

From tablet PCs to iPhones, designers are giving us new ways to interact with our electronic devices. The future of the human-computer interface is likely to be much more tactile and intuitive than our current dependence on keyboard, mouse or remote control. With gesture controlled television, Hitachi and its partners aren’t just removing the necessity of a remote, they’re blurring the lines between the real world and the digital one. Right now, the space between you and your TV is just empty air, but in a few years it could be where you visualize a virtual remote control, or where you interact with your stereo, or the space in which you can clap to tell your laptop to go to sleep. Already, we’ve seen how any hard surface can be turned into a simple input device through acoustics. Imagine what will happen when every open space could be used as a digital interface. It could be an amazing way to integrate electronics into our lives, or it could be a horribly confusing way to crowd our personal space. Probably both.


GestureTek was responsible for creating the software that recognizes gestures and defines which gestures will control which functions of the TV. A little wave indicates you wish to make a command, a large wave scrolls through channels or options, pushing forward selects, a lowering of the hand scrolls down, and two hands can be used to pause playback. Twirling a finger or hand in a circle can vary an option (like raising the volume) and is reminiscent of the iPod dial. GestureTek has tried to use universal gestures, but there may be some variation across regions.

The Canesta hardware that makes the gesture TV possible uses cameras to capture a 3D image of the audience. This technology allows the TV to differentiate between your hand and a picture of a hand. The following Canesta video shows how the 3D image capture may be adapted to an entire entertainment system.

A TV that watches what you are doing is straight out of Orwell’s 1984. Understandably, Hitachi and its partners have tried to ease concerns that the television could become a tool of Big Brother. The Canesta cameras are sensitive enough to distinguish between individuals in a family and would allow each member to “save” their own settings on the TV. However, Canesta and Hitachi maintain that the cameras would not be sensitive enough to pick one user out among millions. The TV could be able to tell that you are the thin woman that likes action movies and makes broad gestures, and yet still not be able to identify you as Kate Beckinsale. Of course, I’m sure hard-line conspiracy analysts will find that guarantee to be cold comfort.

As cool as the Hitachi TV may be, I’m not sure it will be practical. You never know how consumers will respond to new interfaces until they live with them everyday in their homes. Still, even if waving your hands around doesn’t become the next big innovation in entertainment, we are certain to see other devices take advantage of rapidly improving gesture and facial recognition software. Our movements, and the space around us, are set to become the next creative space as the digital revolution continues. Which is great, but it’s unlikely to keep my remote control conflict from escalating. Compromising and watching the nightly news = mutually assured destruction.

[photo credit: Hitachi]