Drive To Discover

Bay Area startup making interactive advances

Sunday, November 07, 2010

The South of Market district in San Francisco is seeing a resurgence of startup companies moving beyond computers and social networking. One poster company for this movement is on the cutting edge of new interactive interfaces.

In this Drive to Discover report, I got to play around with technologies we've seen only in movies like "Minority Report."

Imagine going to work every day in a big space filled with all the latest big-screen displays, touch screens and 3D games, most of which very few people in the world have even seen. This fantasy is a reality for the employees of Helios.

Helios calls itself an "interactive studio." Laboratories from around the world go to San Francisco with revolutionary new technologies and the employees at Helios develop uses for them.

"Ways and methodologies that we've learned over the years," explains Chief Creative Officer Jon Fox.

Those "ways and methodologies" could be for the military, or for Hollywood, or just to attract people to booths at trade shows and in malls. "Loser!" screamed a video game I was playing with a gesture interface. Helios is responsible for a growing library of gestures that are possible with a multi-touch interface, beyond the smart phone, even beyond multi-touch.

For example, Mike Schaiman stood in front of a gesture-based wall display. "So," he demonstrated, "depending on where I am within the projection environment, it'll cause graphics and imagery to appear. Or, you can actually manipulate them using motions and gestures and movement."

Fox built on that with a demonstration of 3D cameras that read your hand motions.

"3D technology, 3D camera technology, real-time depth cameras, are really going to push that into a realm where you'll start to see being able to sit at your couch and go, 'Channel up!' and 'Channel down!' 'Volume left, right,' you know," he said waving his arms. "'Let's move the carousel,' that kind of thing."

And, what about 3D? Scattered throughout the lab are sheets of what is nicknamed "3D glass," but it's really not glass at all. It's much lighter and thinner. You don't need glasses to see the effect and you don't need batteries. The resolution is thousands of pixels per inch, but since they are actually holographic pixels, it's thousands of hogels per inch.

The company is barely 2-years old and made up of refugees from a dozen previous startups, but it's already responsible for many new connections between us and our devices. It's a really touching story.

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