Interview: Francis MacDougall of GestureTek on motion-controlled mobile devices

January 22, 2008 at 10:22 pm

gesturetek.jpgNo, that’s not a Nintendo Wii game on your mobile phone, though it looks like it. According to many people who’ve tried both, GestureTek may be better. The company’s EyeMobile Engine uses the existing camera on a cell phone, plus their own software, to deliver video-gesture-control-controlled applications using what GestureTek calls “Shake, Rock, and Roll”. It’s already become popular among Japanese customers of DoCoMo, who find this a fun and convenient alternative to traditional non-intuitive interfaces such as keys and buttons. But GestureTek Mobile’s usefulness goes beyond games. Their EyeMobile interface is also valuable in mapping and image/music navigation. We asked Francis MacDougall, co-founder and chief technology officer of GestureTek, to tell us more.

How does EyeMobile work?
MacDougall: The Shake application is controlled by how vigorously the user shakes the device. This action is used for shuffling MP3 playlists, throwing dice, etc. The RocknRoll extension presents the opportunity to control applications based upon rock, roll, or a combination of the two. With Rock, you can use the flick of a wrist to answer a call or simulate a throw. Use Roll to turn the pages of a document or for steering and navigation. Combine Rock and Roll to simulate mouse or joystick control.

What were the greatest challenges with developing your product?
MacDougall: The greatest challenges were ensuring we had a solution that was flexible enough to work on any platform and interface with a variety of mobile applications (not just games). We also needed reliability and precision in our solution. It’s important that our technology works and works well. Finally, we needed to be flexible in how we made the product available to handset manufacturers and game developers. Different players want to deliver the product, market the product, pay for the product, and make money on the product, in different ways. It was important that we take their needs into consideration, and this continues to be a priority for us.

Do you feel comfortable with your mobile business model?
MacDougall: Our business model differs depending on the platform. For instance, on the BREW platform, GestureTek is paid for each game that is downloaded (this is of course through BREW’s plug-in model). On the other hand, DoCoMo pays GestureTek on a per handset basis. We do not see any threats with our different business models and in fact find security with the variety of models we employ.

What distinguishes GestureTek from your mobile competitors?
MacDougall: GestureTek’s main competition is accelerometers, which are costly and require integration into mobile hardware during the design period. GestureTek’s EyeMobile Engine uses the existing camera phone and is a pure software solution. GestureTek also offers an optimized solution for the widest variety of platforms. The company has over 20 years of experience and is available to over 50 million handsets

Can EyeMobile can do things that accelerometers can’t?
MacDougall: The accelerometer must be set to measure either small movement or large movement, but not both. On the other hand, GestureTek’s EyeMobile Engine has advantages in that it can offer both maxi and mini control, plus more versatility and functionality in gesture-control. Some of the most popular applications available through NTT DoCoMo, for example, are those in which people get a mobile gaming experience that’s closer to the real thing by making hand gestures at their phone. For example, people can swing their phones like they’re rolling a bowling ball in the Bowling Game, or dance around the ring taking punches at their opponent in the Boxing Game. Accelerometers can’t do that.

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Entry filed under: francis macdougall, gesturetek, interview, mobile applications, mobile content.

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