Israeli start-up brings gesture tech to iPhones

PointGrab’s new CamMe app shows off a future in which users will be able to interact more easily with their iDevices

CamMe in action (Photo credit: Courtesy)
CamMe in action (Photo credit: Courtesy)

With gesture technology gaining traction as an important interaction method between man and machine, it was only a matter of time before it showed up on smartphones and tablets. Now, Israeli 2D gesture technology company Pointgrab has become one of the first to bring it to smartphones, specifically Apple’s iOS platform.

PointGrab is the largest 2D gesture technology company in the world, and has long provided a platform for users to interact with TVs, video games, cameras, and other devices by gesturing with their hands or arms in front of a camera. PointGrab provides the technology for numerous platforms, including Windows 8.

With TVs, gesture technology could obviate the need for remote controls. Instead of clicking buttons to flip between channels or change the volume, users would move their arms, hands, or fingers to adjust viewing preferences. The technology could also eventually supercede a wide range of intermediary interface computer devices, like keyboards, mice, joysticks, touchpads, styli, and more.

Israel, it turns out, is a world leader in gesture technology. Israel’s PrimeSense developed the 3D gesture technology that powers the Microsoft Kinect system, and another Israeli 2D gesture company, EyeSight, is a veteran in the market. Meanwhile, PointGrab, whose technology manufacturers have generally been placing directly into chipsets, holds about 90 percent of the 2D gesture market.

The reason Israel is so central to the gesture business, a PointGrab spokesperson told The Times of Israel, is because the IDF has been using and developing gesture technology for years, and much of the scientific and research work in that area has been done by Israelis.

Now, PointGrab has developed a software kit (SDK) for developers of apps for iPhones, iPods, and iPads – the first such SDK for use by developers. PointGrab hopes they’ll come up with innovative gesture apps for Apple’s iOS devices.

To kick off the fun, PointGrab developed the first full-fledged gesture app for the iPhone and iPad: CamMe, an app that lets users take time-delayed photos using gestures. The free app was unveiled this week at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, along with the SDK. CamMe allows the user to define a time delay, set up the iDevice’s camera, and then signal to the camera with a hand gesture. Once the camera registers the gesture, the user has three seconds to pose and smile before the picture is taken.

But CamMe is actually a very simple implementation of gesture technology. PointGrab has developed gesture systems for remote controls for Acer and Fujitsu laptops and for Samsung TVs that use a much wider range of gestures, such as moving a finger in the air to move a cursor, waving hands left to right to shuffle between songs on music applications or tabs, thrusting a finger forward to click, or grabbing (closing the hand) to close a window or file, among others. The PointGrab SDK’s algorithms identify the hand’s x and y coordinates in order to support accurate cursor control, and can even simultaneously detect and track two hands, allowing for natural gestures for zooming and rotating.

The iOS SDK also has such capabilities, and eventually PointGrab expects developers to come up with more sophisticated apps than CamMe. Some applications of the technology are already on developers’ agendas, including instituting gesture functions for core mobile functionalities such as snoozing the alarm clock, muting the device, answering calls, and controlling media applications. In addition, the company said, hand gestures will add a “new dimension” to mobile gaming by extending the experience beyond the actual screen, providing environments that use real space as an extension of screen space.

“PointGrab is excited to introduce a new dimension to the consumer mobile experience by adding hand gesture capabilities to tablets and smartphones. We believe gesture control can be implemented as core functionality as well as in a large range of applications,” said Haim Perski, CEO of PointGrab. “We invite the developers’ community to take part in bringing this innovative way of interaction to consumers worldwide by implementing great ideas for gesture based apps and games.”

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