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Ever Wish You Had a Sixth Sense? Check Out This Demo from MIT

Posted by Scott Kirsner  September 23, 2009 08:00 AM

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One of the most popular technology demos from this year's TED Conference came from Pattie Maes and Pranav Mistry at the MIT Media Lab. Sixth Sense, as they describe it, is a "wearable gestural interface that augments the physical world around us with digital information" and allows the user to use hand gestures to manipulate that information.

Here's the video from TED:

They're presenting another pair of talks today as part of MIT's Emerging Technologies conference.

I spoke with Maes earlier this summer. "The interest in Sixth Sense since TED has been overwhelming," she said.

"It's a little bit too much interest," Maes continued, "in part because we made the mistake of including our e-mail address in the video." People have been inquiring about whether Sixth Sense is a company yet; whether they can invest in it; buy the system; or "apply the technology in a range of different fields, from health care to the military," Maes said.

She later explained in an e-mail that there's not a company formed to commercialize the Sixth Sense technology (at least not yet), "but we are working with Media Lab sponsors (cellphone manufacturers) on more commercially-oriented prototypes."

Since the TED demo back in February, Mistry, Maes and their colleagues have been working on some enhancements: the TED system ran on a PC, and the new one runs on a cell phone. They've been experimenting with using two cameras instead of one to track the user's fingertips, "so we get depth information as well as location information," Maes said. And while the TED system used colored tape or Magic Marker caps on the user's finger tips to help cameras identify them, the researchers are "trying to avoid needing those," Maes said.

It's far too early to tell when Sixth Sense might become a purchasable product, Maes said: "I prefer not to speculate."

Another demo I'm looking forward to at today's Emerging Technologies conference is OnLive from serial entrepreneur Steve Perlman. It's a gaming-on-demand service that aims to deliver high-quality console videogames directly to PCs, Macs, and Internet-connected TVs -- no console required.

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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