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If the experimental work going on in RISD's "g-speak studio" feels a lot like sci-fi, it's probably because students are working with a groundbreaking technology that's not yet on the market. Anyone who remembers Steven Spielberg's futuristic thriller Minority Report would recognize it, though - the ability to operate a computer through simple hand gestures, much like a conductor leading an orchestra.
At RISD, graduate students are now exploring potential uses for the g-speak spatial operating environment (SOE) currently under development by Oblong Industries. Representing the first major breakthrough in computer interface design in the past 25 years, g-speak (the "g" stands for "gestural") enables people to use computers through gestures - by moving their hands and arms in the air instead of using a keyboard, touch-screen or mouse. Oblong has installed the system at MIT and the University of Southern California, but chose RISD as its third test site because of their interest in "design and humanist principles" and their expectation that RISD students "will come up with forms, systems and designs beyond what Oblong alone can imagine," notes John Underkoffler, the company's chief scientist and cofounder - and as it so happens, a science advisor for Minority Report when he was still a student at the MIT Media Lab earlier this decade.
Taught by Digital + Media faculty member Amber Frid-Jimenez and research assistant Kate Hollenbach MFA '11 GD, the first g-speak studio - called Embodied Computation: Design for Fashion, Information and the Body - ran during the spring 2009 semester and is being offered again in the fall of 2009. Graduate students from Architecture, Furniture Design, Graphic Design and Textiles took part in the first iteration of the studio, learning to work with g-speak's sensor-studded gloves, cameras and projectors, and the developing wearable props and other objects.