Move over Kinect — Displair from Russia is a gesture interface in thin air

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Please look at this video and tell me it is not magic. Displair, a Russian company from Astrakhan has come up with a technology to project images into the thin air, and use gestures to move them.

The prototype will certainly need improving to get anywhere near the computer-generated scenes of Tom Cruise flipping through photos displayed in the air in the Minority Report, but unlike the movie, Displair is for real.

The company uses a stream of cold fog to project images onto it and an infrared camera to capture gestures. Unlike oversized body movements which Microsoft Kinect analyze and process using motion camera and infrared depth sensors, Displair solves a bigger challenge of detecting and interpreting finer movements of hands.

Yet Displair’s award-winning technology, developed in a student dormitory, has only 0.2 seconds lag time between gesture and computer reaction, compared to 0.1 second lag time of Kinect for Xbox 360, using up to 1500 points in its multi-touch screen system with 1 cm accuracy. Microsoft Research is also making advances in gesture recognition, as is demonstrated in the video here, however such technology is not commercially available yet.

The founder and CEO of Displair Maxim Kamanin believes that there are applications in advertisement and entertainment industry. For example, Russian Alma Group will use the technology in psychotherapy treatments, while  Medical Group plans to set up an interactive terminal for its reception.

When manufactured in large quantities, the device may cost between $4000 and $30 000. The company is capable of producing 40 to 140-inch screens, but it is currently looking for investors to launch commercial production. About a year ago a project has been commended by the President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev, and has since then collected various awards, the latest being theTech Innovations Award.

Displair is not alone in using the cold fog as a screen to project images but they appear to be far more advanced with the multi-touch technology. Fog Screen from Finland adds wow factor with its large air displays to the entertainment and retail industries. I have caught up with Fog Screen’s Ville Kurri, who told me that recently they have also started using a multi-touch laser scanner technology developed by its Czech partner Screenrental, which reacts to body movements. It can be used for special effects, such as a brick wall collapsing once a person walks through it. A demo of this technology can be seen in this video.

FogScreen – laser touch system from SCREENRENTAL.EU on Vimeo.

Interestingly enough, Ville Kurri has misread my email, thinking that I contacted them from Tech Church (if you google it, it comes one line above TechCrunch). Apparently Fog Screen plans to reach out to religious organizations, which look for special effects to engage with their audiences.

Back to Displair however, which has managed to bootstrap its development efforts, supported only by small government grants, the largest one being $30 000. More funding is needed to spread Displair’s magic.