OK, Tom Cruise’s data gloves in Minority Report are slicker than the AcceleGlove, no doubt about it. Remember him, standing all cocky and Cruise-like in front of that glass panel, watching images and data flicker before him? With precise gestures, Cruise zoomed in on images, moved them around with a flick of his wrist, and dragged up new ones. With an inadvertent gesture to shake a man’s hand, he tosses a row of pictures off the side of is display. Cruise’s gloves even have lights glowing on each fingertip.
The Acceleglove is clunky and ungraceful by comparison. The cloth is thick, because it has to conceal circuitry, and long metal rods reach from the wrist up past the elbow to capture arm motion. (Former DISCOVER columnist Jaron Lanier pointed out that one problem with the interface that Minority Report made famous was that it caused a lot of arm fatigue; presumably, the metal rods will not improve that situation.) Sometimes warts emerge when a sci-fi device becomes real.
Earlier versions of the data glove have been around for years in the form of motion-capture suits or virtual-reality gloves (and, of course, the old-school Nintendo Power Glove). Fifth Dimension, a leader in virtual-reality equipment, has gloves that run from $2,000 to $40,000 for a top-of-the-line, 21-sensor, wireless pair. But those prices have limited it to high-end markets, like mainstream motion pictures and TV commercials.
The Acceleglove, which will come in at about $500, uses an accelerometer in each finger to measure its position. These devices measures use tiny crystals to measure changes in the finger’s orientation with respect to gravity, the force that puts the “accele” in accelerometer. (Accelerometers tell iPhones when to switch between portrait and landscape mode, and they’re used in laptops to turn off the hard drive the poor thing is dropped.) As a finger of the glove moves, the crystals’ charge changes, indicating the finger’s location and orientation to a computer. The accelerometers transmit the data to a circuit board at the back of the hand, which in turn uses a USB cable to link to a computer. (Here’s a demo video.)
Applications for the Acceleglove are still under development, but there are some pretty nifty ideas out there. Researchers at George Washington University (where the glove was first developed) hope to use the glove to allow speakers of sign language to translate their signs directly into text on a computer screen, or even into speech. The military, naturally, wants to use the gloves for fine control of unmanned drones, and games makers see incredible new forms of entertainment entertainment.
The AcceleGlove is also easily capable of manipulating images on a screen, like a mouse, and it hardly seams a stretch to imagine that one day we too will be able to say, Scotty-style, “Keyboard. How quaint.”
Michael D. asked, on the Assignment Desk post:
In the most recent issue of Nature, there are two papers…that detail the characteristics of sodium and lithium under extreme pressure. Specifically, these two metals adopt semiconductor-like (even superconductor-like) characteristics if you subject them to giga-pressure (literally, 80-200 gigapascals). The sodium actually becomes optically transparent during this squeeze. Reading this reminded me of a Star Trek [movie] that involved a not-so-scientific explanation of “transparent aluminum” …Is the idea of using transparent metal for windows pure science fiction?
The paper you’re talking about, the one on high pressure sodium, sure did make a lot of noise in the science world, and for good reason. Drs. Yanming Ma and Artem Oganov at SUNY Stonybrook showed that lithium and sodium do goofy things under pressure — like turn transparent. Normally under really high pressure, elements turn into metals, c.f. hydrogen. The science makes intuitive sense because the atoms are getting smooshed together as the pressure increases. The electrons are freed to become conductors, and the element takes a metal-like structure. But in sodium, it turns out, the electrons line up into columns, one on top of the other. This creates gaps between the atoms, and instead of becoming a conductor, it becomes an insulator, and, conicidentally, becomes transparent.
All of which is cool, but it doesn’t really answer Michael D’s question, because the sodium is under 200 gigapasacals of pressure, the sort of pressure you find if you were journeying from Jupiter’s surface toward its core, not hanging out on the bridge of the Enterprise.
And yet! That formula Scotty gave for transparent aluminum in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home very nearly exists in the form of aluminum oxynitride (known as ALONtm). Harder than diamond, ALONtm is far more shock resistant than even bullet resistant glass. In Air Force tests it has resisted multiple rounds from a .50 caliber sniper rifle. That hardness also prevents wear and tear, since neither sand nor rocks nor shrapnel in the night will scratch the stuff.
In practical use, the ALONtm would be the outer layer for windscreens of cockpit covers. It would be backed by a thin layer of glass and a layer of transparent polymer to prevent shattering. All together the ALONtm windscreen would be thinner and lighter than a traditional bullet-resistant windscreen.What’s unclear from my research is whether it would be strong enough to hold back enough water to make the aquarium for all those humpbacks whales on a captured Klingon spaceship, but it’s a start.
The main downside? It’s wicked expensive. Traditional bullet resistant glass goes for $3 per inch-squared, but ALONtm costs between $10-$15, or it did back in 2005. I can’t seem to find any more current applications for it, but this is the military, it could be classified.
Anyway Michael D., I hope that answers your question.