Gesture control devices are a big new area of interest among hardware startups, and a Bluetooth-enabled ring that makes it possible to control connected devices with a wave of your hand is nothing new. But the Nod is different from many of the other solutions out there we’ve seen, in that it’s already in the advanced prototype phase, has serious high-profile VC backing, and in that I’ve actually seen it work as advertised with my own two eyes.
Nod has funding from Menlo Ventures and Sequoia Capital to name a few, and the Mountain View-based startup has talent from Apple, Google, Jawbone, Samsung and many other big tech companies with plenty of expertise in both hardware and software design and production. The device itself is a waterproof (up to 5 ATM) ring, with a metal rim around the inside (for all-day comfort and hypoallergenic purposes) and a transmission-friendly plastic outer case. It comes with a charging cradle that doubles as a ring holder, is available in 12 different sizes (using spacers within a few set sizes for adjustability) and offers about a full day of regular usage connected to devices via Bluetooth LE.
“We came together with the idea of trying to solve something that we think could possibly be the next computing revolution around input,” explained Nod Labs CEO and founder Anush Elangovan in an interview. “We took a step back and looked at how we’ve progressed from plug panels and dip switches to the mouse in the PC era, and then touch in the mobile era, and we were like ‘what’s next?’ Speech has always been one part of it, but speech doesn’t work in a crowded room for example, so the next obvious one is gestures.”
Tackling gestures isn’t as easy as just building support for sweeping hand movements into a device; the real test is making sure that it works on a repeated basis in everyday settings for everyday users. This is a lesson that has been hard for companies playing in this space to learn thus far, and it makes or breaks new gadget adoption. Even major companies like Samsung have stumbled when trying to integrate gesture control into their smartphone devices, and the challenge is something of which Elangovan is keenly aware.
“We wanted to solve the most complicated thing in gestures, which means we wanted to go beyond gimmicks,” he said. “We wanted people to be able to fully express themselves.”
To do that, the Nod ring offers the ability to use so-called micro-gestures, which are more understand and take advantage of highly sensitive sensors built into the hardware that support two finger gestures and subtle brushes, swipes and rotations of a user’s digits. The Nod is also highly sensitive – it’s dialed down for a general user population, but developers can exploit up to 32K DPI sensitivity, making it multiple times more sensitive than your standard gaming mouse.
Nod Labs will offer up an app “discovery portal” for its hardware to help users find software to use with it, but the company envisions being able to wear it all day and use it to interact with various devices. Navigate your Google Glass, for instance, control your smartphone and interact with your smart home connected devices and TV. A touch sensitive surface on the Nod allows for swipe input to complement the 3D spatial gestures, and the device ships with a gestural glide keyboard that works somewhat like predictive smartphone virtual input software like Swype. The API is open to devs, and Nod contributes to open-source framework OpenSpatial, and Elangovan says making software Nod compatible is as easy as adding a few lines of code.
You can get a Nod via pre-order today at $149, with shipping anticipated to start in the fall. I’m still not entirely sold on gesture control as the future of input, but Nod is the closest I’ve seen yet to building something that’s practical, easy enough to understand out of the box and legitimately close to being a final, shipping product.