Motion controls often leave a lot to be desired. They can be unreliable, tiring, and not nearly as intuitive as they sound. But even at their most awkward, they confer a kind of regal power. There's something mystical about waving a palm or clenching a fist and making objects dance at your command. Spin! you gesture imperiously at a small four-wheeled robot waiting patiently on the floor. It obeys.
This is the Ziro (rhymes with "pyro"), an upcoming motion control system from ZeroUI. Ziro is one part kids' robotics kit and one part Power Glove. Its base components are a set of motors that can power any small modular robot design, plus a bright green glove lined with a motion sensor and flex strips along the thumb and first two fingers. A smartphone app links the two, letting users pair a specific motor action with a specific gesture.
Here's how this might work in action. The aforementioned four-wheeled robot is made with four Ziro motors. They connect to the glove via Bluetooth (though the final version will use Wi-Fi), paired by pushing your hand abruptly downward. Once that's done, raising your hand palm-up starts the wheels spinning forward, pointing your fingers towards the floor reverses the motion, and twisting in either direction turns. In another iteration, the same motors could be installed in a replica of R2-D2, where clenching a fist makes his head turn. Or it could make a Pteranodon's wings flap.
None of this is particularly cheap. Ziro will launch as an Indiegogo campaign later in January, and two motors and a "goodie bag" of robot parts will sell for $149. For $199, you'll get four motors, plus the parts for the four-wheeled robot, a rolling cardboard droid — sadly, not R2-D2 — and a movable toy dog. The glove is supposed to be in a nearly final state, but it still feels fairly rough, with protruding electronics and a fragile-feeling mesh on the palm. And we still don't know what the kits will sell for when retail versions launch later this year. But it's nicely responsive, conceptually simple, and an undeniably fun idea.