Gmail Motion April Fools’ prank not (quite) so foolish
By Darren Quick
April 4, 2011
Last week, Google announced Gmail Motion, a system which promised motion control for the company's free webmail service using a computer's built-in webcam and some nifty spatial tracking technology. Using Gmail Motion users would be able to not only control Gmail actions but also compose emails using gestures that would be translated into common phrases. It was of course an April Fool's Day joke, but Evan A. Suma, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Southern California's (USC) Institute for Creative Technologies, immediately set to work in demonstrating that the technology to run such a system already exists.
Suma and his team had previously created the Flexible Action and Articulated Skeleton Toolkit (FAAST), which uses Microsoft's Kinect sensor to detect a person's movements and allow for the full-body control of Windows applications and games and virtual reality applications. Upon seeing the Google prank last Friday, Suma realized that he already had the tools to make Gmail Motion a reality and spent some time modifying FAAST to recognize some of Google's sample gestures and filmed the results, which Suma has dubbed the Software Library Optimizing Obligatory Waving (SLOOW).
While improving upon Google's "buggy" solution might have been nothing more than a little fun for Suma and his team, the FAAST project has a variety of much more serious applications in its sights. Along with the large number of games that people have converted to gesture control using the freely available and distributable FAAST software, like the Virtopsy research project, the team is also exploring use of the technology for medical applications, such as physical therapy and motor rehabilitation.