05 October 2013

Google Buys Gesture-Based Startup Flutter

Image Credit: Flutter 

Google is planning to beef up its gesture-based interface offerings with their latest acquisition. Startup company Flutter hails itself as the “Kinect for OS X” and offers an app in the Mac App Store. Flutter uses the Mac’s camera to detect simple gestures to control music and movies.

Though both companies have confirmed the purchase, neither has revealed the specific terms of the deal – including the purchase price. Flutter says they’ll continue their research into gesture-based interfaces while at Google, and at the moment their app is still available in the Mac App Store.

“When we started three years ago, our dream to build a ubiquitous and power-efficient gesture recognition technology was considered by many as just ‘a dream,’ not a real possibility,” reads a statement on the Flutter website. 

“Today, we are thrilled to announce that we will be continuing our research at Google. We share Google’s passion for 10x thinking, and we’re excited to add their rocket fuel to our journey.”

A Google spokesperson also confirmed the deal, saying: “We’re really impressed by the Flutter team’s ability to design new technology based on cutting-edge research. We look forward to supporting and collaborating on their research efforts at Google.”

Available for both Mac and Windows PCs, Flutter uses the webcam to turn gestures into actions. Currently users only have three gestures they can use to play, pause, go forward or go back when listening to music or watching movies. Flutter works with a number of popular entertainment apps, including iTunes, Rdio, Spotify and VLC.

When paired with a Google Chrome extension, Flutter also allows users to pause, play or rewind videos on Netflix and YouTube. A thumb pointed left rewinds or goes to the beginning of the track or previous track; a thumb pointed right advances the video or goes to the next song. Holding a flat palm towards the camera pauses and restarts the content.

Flutter requires the webcam to stay on while the app is in use, but the company says the snapshots gathered from the camera do not leave the computer. Flutter does store snapshots of the most recent gestures in case the user reports an error, such as a skipped song when they sneeze.

According to sources who spoke with GigaOm, all six of Flutter’s employees will be heading to the Googleplex in Mountain View, California. Flutter’s co-founders, Mehul Nariyawala and Navneet Dalal, have worked previously with Google.

There are currently few official details about this deal, but it’s assumed Google has plans to begin implementing gesture-based controls into their platforms. Some Android devices, such as the Samsung Galaxy S4, already have similar controls built-in to the device. As touted in their commercials, Samsung’s gesture controls let users wave their hands over the device to navigate through pictures or scroll through an email. With Flutter’s technology built into Android, Google could bring this functionality to even more devices natively. Google may also decide to pack Flutter’s algorithms into their line of Chromebooks, which run their cloud-based operating system Chrome.

Last year Flutter’s co-founders showed off their app working on an iPhone and discussed plans to extend their algorithms to be able to understand subtle facial cues, such as smiles or frowns.


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