Google has filed a pair of patent applications that show off what seems to be a small wearable aimed at initiating actions in video conferences via gestures. One patent is for the wearable itself, and the other is for the system that will power it and translate gesture actions made with the wearable into actions in a video conference. The wearable would be secured to a user’s wrist, similar to a smartwatch, and would pick up on the user’s hand motions and other gestures via a bevy of sensors. These gestures, according to the other patent, would be used for both predefined and customizable actions.
Background: Google has been pushing hard in the enterprise space recently, and video conferencing technology like this would be great for things like group webinars, video meetings, collaboration and more. The way it works is that the wearable’s sensors are constantly engaged, and it seeks out actions with similar qualities to predefined gestures. When it finds one, it confirms whether a gesture is being used and which one, then sends the relevant action request to the framework described in the other patent. Things like using a finger to move a mouse pointer, drawing overlays in the air that hang over sections of the video conference screen, and voting using a thumbs up and thumbs down system are just a few of the proposed use cases for the system that are shown off or alluded to in the two patents. While something similar could be accomplished with sensors integrated in the conferencing devices’ cameras, the wearable patent would eliminate the need for special conferencing hardware, allowing common office Chromebooks, MacBooks, or ThinkPads to be used with the gesture controls, and would allow for more precise and nuanced gestures. The fact that these gestures and their requisite actions can be defined by the user adds even more flexibility, and could allow software makers to integrate fitting gesture actions directly into their conference programs without users or Google having to define them.
Impact: Business users sick of firing up MS Paint in the middle of a video meeting or busting out a notebook and pen will likely be thrilled by this development. Common collaboration efforts between users such as programmers and musicians could benefit, too; a programmer could create a flow chart for a colleague to follow in an optimization process by painting in mid-air with a finger, for example, while a guitarist could perhaps use a defined function that picks up on his strums and turns them into metronome beats in his singer friend’s earbuds. The potential use cases for such a technology are limited only by users’ needs and imaginations, and for those who use video conference software regularly, this is likely to be very exciting news. The usual caveat applies with these patents, of course; this is just Google essentially putting a claim on the idea and the requisite technology. Naturally, this means that Google may or may not put out a product in the future that puts the tenets set forth in these patents to use.