Human Computer Interaction

3 11 2008

As usual, having an exorbitant amount of time to dispose of on the bus, I picked up another book at the library. Instead of finding another mediocre scifi book I wandered the science library and picked up a book mentioned in the Coding Horror Blog, Human Computer Interaction Remixed. It’s basically a collection of essays on.. well, other essays, hence the remixed part. Anyway, one thing I noticed is that the HCI interfaces we use everyday have been around since before most of us, or even our parents, were born, with little major improvement. The keyboard (~1877) , mouse (~1964), and monitor (~1920) are the essential interaction devices for every home and office computer around. Aren’t they a bit limited though?

When writing the interface for my Rubik’s Cube application, I decided fairly quickly to either make the commands to twist the sides from a command line or keyboard triggered events. Why? Well, somewhat because it’s easier to program, but also because all the Rubik’s Cube programs I’ve seen on the Internet that use the mouse to control the cube suck. Do you want to rotate the cube? Well, then grab the center. Do you want to rotate the top corner, well, grab that corner and pull it over, no no not that way now you’re rotating the left side! The problem boils down to trying to rotate and control this complicated 3D structure with a 2D pointing device. No wonder the guy in Ironman wasn’t using a mouse to make all his robot parts, first it would be way less cool, and second think of all the long boring hours in front of CAD software. Perhaps it’s time for something a little more 3D. Maybe I’ve been watching and reading too much scifi, but wouldn’t that little hand wavy gesture translating interface of Ironman or the Minority Report be awesome? Imagine putting on a force feedback sensor glove and controlling my little Rubik’s Cube. You see the cube on the screen, reach out and can actually feel the pressure as you find the sides. You can feel the little cubies as you run your finger across it and the motor in that finger wavers. Then, with a flick of your wrist you rotate a side of the cube, which is then displayed on the screen. Cool, huh?

If there’s one thing I’m midly impressed with the Wii, it’s the controllers. A step in the right direction, but still far from the hand wavy geasture translating controls of the Minority Report. From what I’ve found on the Internet there’s surprisingly little research on force feedback data gloves, with the few working versions being clunky, quite expensive, and usually coupled with little robotic arms instead of just using them for computer interaction. Eh well, perhaps someday I’lll be able to scroll through the tabs of Firefox with the flick of my pinky and program my Rubik’s Cube to be moved around with wrist rotations, but that day hasn’t come yet.