Pebbles Pebbles An engineer from Pebbles Interfaces demonstrates the company's hand-gesture system with the Oculus Rift. (Photo: Screenshot via YouTube)

Facebook brings hand gestures to the virtual world

Company’s Oculus division acquires startup Pebbles with the hope of creating a more immersive experience.

In recent months we've discussed a world where people will be making hand gestures into the air, just like in "Minority Report," to control smartphone interfaces. But that once-fictional vision is also getting closer to being a reality in the virtual world. Facebook-owned Oculus VR, the company behind the Oculus Rift goggles, has acquired Pebbles Interfaces, according to various sources.

What does the Israel based Pebbles (which we hope is named after the owner's favorite cereal and/or favorite "Flintstones" character) do? Using custom-made optics and sensors as well as software, it created a hand-gesture interface that allows an Oculus Rift user to use their hands to hold and move things in their virtual world.

As the video shows, Pebbles had been working with the Oculus Rift goggles already, so the acquisition was a matter of bringing the talent who developed the interface into the Oculus fold. This is a long-term play, as hand-gesture control in the VR world is still a few years away. But the folks at Oculus feel that teaming with Pebbles gives them a leg (or is it arm?) up in the race.

"Over time, technology breakthroughs in sensors will unlock new human interaction methods in VR and revolutionize the way people communicate in virtual worlds," the company said in a statement.

“Facebook is betting big on Oculus, with a strong view that the virtual reality headset is going to change the way we interact with the world,” Zack Miller, a general partner at OurCrowd, told From The Grapevine. His venture capital company specializes in Israeli companies. "Israeli entrepreneurs and scientists have significantly moved the ball down the gesture-control field and leading tech firms like Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and Intel, will continue to turn to Israel as an outsourced lab of innovation for 3D sensing.”

Gamers are excited about the prospects, but the combined Oculus/Pebbles interface can be used for many other applications, as we mentioned in May. We can definitely see the gesture interface being used for behavior modification or training. Imagine being able to fix a virtual transmission without ruining a real one? That would be cool. But fighting dragons with your bare hands would be even cooler, right?

Anyway, don't expect to see this in any consumer-grade version of the Oculus Rift when it's released in 2016. But who knows what we might see in 2025?


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