Google buys gesture recognition company Flutter

Steven Loeb · October 3, 2013 · Short URL:

Flutter technology allows users to use hand movements to control apps, including Spotify and iTunes

Using hand gestures to control a computer still feels very science-fictiony to me. But the reality is that this technology is already here, and we are probably only a few years away from it becoming mainstream.

Google is one company that wants to be at the forefront of this new technology, and so it has purchased gesture recognition company Flutter, according to an announcement on Flutter's homepage.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Flutter revealed that its app, which is available in the Mac Store, will continue to operate. 

"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. Since then, we have strived to build the best machine vision algorithms and a delightful user experience," Flutter wrote in the announcement.

"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."

The team will be coming to work at Google's headquarters in Mountain View. 

Founded in 2010, Flutter's uses hand gestures, which are detected by webcam, to pause and skip songs and videos in applications such as iTunes, Spotify, Rdio, Quicktime, Keynote, YouTube, Netflix, Pandora, and others. It calls itself the "Kinect for OS X."

The Y-Combinator graduated company raised $1.4 million in a fundraising round from Start Fund, Spring Ventures, NEA and Andreessen Horowitz in June of last year. 

The question now is: what will Google do with this technology? There is no indication of how, or even if, Flutter might be integrated into Google's products.

VatorNews reached out Google to find out more, but a spokesperson would only give us the following statement: “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.”

So all we can do for now is speculate on how it might be used.

The first thing that comes to mind, at least for me, are wearable devices, such as Google Glass. These devices are hands free, and so that actually make gesture motioning easier, rather than doing it while holding a device in the other hand. It would certainly be a less awkward way of scrolling through a list then trying to do it with head motions.

It should also be noted that some Google has already been testing out something like this with Gmail motion, which allows users to control Gmail with their body. 

For example, to open a message, a user makes a motion like they are opening an envelope. To reply, they point backward with their thumb, using both hands the reply all. To send a message, the user pretends to lick a stamp and sends it down. And so on. So Flutter's expertise in the area could be going toward improving that product.

Gesture motion devices are on the rise lately, including the aforementioned Kinect, and the Leap Motion sensor, which senses a user's individual hand and finger movements so they  can interact directly with their computer. It can track movements to 1/100th of a millimeter.

Intel also recently got into the game with the acquisition of gesture recognition compant Omek in July.

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