How science fiction and video game devices inspire innovation

Photograph of John Underkoffler describing science fiction and innovative computer interfaces.
John Underkoffler speaks about interface design. Image credit: Steve Jurvetson / Flickr / CC.

If you need inspiration for your next innovation then you should consider a closer examination of science fiction movies and video game device interfaces. Innovative ideas are often triggered through after-market remixing and modification of ideas introduced to society through popular culture and consumer devices.

Example of a gesture based interface from the film Minority Report

The general public was introduced to dynamic, gesture-based interfaces in Steven Spielberg’s 2002 film Minority Report. In the scene shown below, Tom Cruise quickly reviews video footage, timelines, pans and zooms, reviews profile/license information of individuals using only his hands.

John Underkoffler points to the future of UI

The interface used in Minority Report was designed with assistance from inventor and entrepreneur John Underkoffler. While working on his Ph.D. at MIT, Underkoffler invented a system named G-Speak which enabled motion based input to navigate datasets. Underkoffler’s 2010 TED presentation summarizes his vision for how computers will be controlled in the near future.


Example of modifying a consumer product to advance science

Gesture-based interfaces were paired with the Microsoft XBOX 360 gaming console in 2010 through an accessory called the Kinect. The device includes motion sensing technology that enables players to control videogames using their arms and hands. The Kinect has been adapted by a team at the University of Zurich’s Virtopsy project to prototype a method for surgeons to access and manipulate radiological images. The team’s modification may save lives by enabling surgeons to review patient information real time, while in surgery, without compromising sterility by touching a keyboard or mouse.

Watch the demonstration of touch free control of medical image viewers

Learn more about John Underkoffler, gesture computing, and the University of Zurich’s Virtopsy project