Consumer versions of motion control gloves — primarily associated with the much-maligned Nintendo Power Glove — have never quite caught on. In theory, they're supposed to combine the fine-grained control that hand-tracking cameras can provide with the reliability of physical controllers like the Oculus Touch. In practice, they can be bulky and constricting, and it's hard to make a truly "one size fits all" option. Various companies are trying to build workable versions — like the Manus, a soft glove fitted with flex and motion sensors. Few, however, seem as potentially practical as Gest.
Gest, pronounced "jest" and developed by fledgling startup Apotact Labs, is a weird experiment based on an eminently reasonable idea. It's an adjustable black strap that fits around a user's palm, attached by wires to four small bands that clip onto their fingers. It's designed to be as light as possible, and it looks more like jewelry than clothing, but Gest fills a similar niche to glove controllers. A combination of accelerometers, gyroscopes, and magnetometers — the same kinds of sensors you'd find in a smartphone — let it figure out the relative positions of your fingers, then transmit them to a computer or mobile device over Bluetooth.
The upshot, in theory, is that Gest is a light and convenient device that doesn't have to collect and analyze the huge amount of data that something like the Leap Motion hand tracker would require. The battery can last longer (supposedly up to a "full day of work"), it can respond faster, and it doesn't require a separate camera. It's not meant to perfectly recreate the way your hand moves around a space, but to capture complex gestures that can be assigned to specific computer controls. While there's no thumb clip, the designers say that's because they can infer a lot of its motion from the way a user's palm moves.
'"Air typing" could help solve one of VR's most obvious input problems
Apotact Labs CEO and co-founder Mike Pfister describes it as the motion control answer to a mouse and keyboard. At launch, it'll work with Photoshop, supporting gestures that let users do things like adjust control sliders, add layers, and change brush sizes. It's aimed at people who might be using a stylus and don't want to put it down to type or click through a menu; they'll use the stylus in their dominant hand and wear a Gest tracker on the other. It's also aimed at the world of virtual reality, where there's a huge need for controllers that work even when you can't see them, particularly ones that replace standard computer keyboards. With a Gest on each hand, it's possible to "air type," with the device's motion tracker aided by a predictive typing tool.
I didn't get to try Gest myself, and I only saw it in action briefly. There's a working version of the smaller design, but most of the demo was done with a bulkier wired prototype. Likewise, it's impossible to gauge how comfortable it is, or how well it fits different sizes of hand. That said, the typing and gestures seemed to work as advertised, though there's only so much it can do until Apotact and outside developers build in support for more tools. Actually, though, hardware isn't the company's ultimate goal. Pfister says that the company is primarily focusing on its software development kit, which supports gestures for any motion tracking system, not just Gest. While other companies are trying to perfect hardware, he hopes Gest can develop a user interface that's "relevant for humans."
Gest is aiming to ship to backers in November of 2016, if it makes its $100,000 funding goal. The "early bird" funding option will get backers a single Gest at $99 — they'll later need to pick whether they want a right-handed or left-handed model. It will otherwise sell for $200 per hand.