‘Minority Report’ interface arriving in our workspaces?

By June 09, 2016
Mezzanine d'Oblong

Designer John Underkoffler is now transposing the User Interface first seen in the blockbuster film Minority Report fifteen years ago to the workspace of today. His watchword is collaboration.

A man stands there surrounded by a web of virtual objects and documents. With gloved hands he makes changes to them and moves them around at will. This is an interface which has inspired a whole generation of User Experience designers. It was back in 2002 that this idea took shape in the head of John Underkoffler, who was advising Steven Spielberg for his film Minority Report. He recalls: “At that time what I had in mind was a fairly conceptual prototype. The system as shown on the screen didn’t really exist. Everything was highly choreographed and based on sophisticated visual effects.

Nearly fifteen years later, this same interface has become a reality. And we find its first incarnation not in a crime context but in the business world - at the offices of audit, tax and consulting services firm PwC, at Neuilly-sur-Seine near Paris.

Known as the Delta Room, the space in question is a large room furnished with armchairs and high tables and equipped with a video-conferencing system that uses the latest sound and projection technology. On the walls there are whiteboards and six connected screens, on the ceiling a set of ultrasound technology sensors. John Underkoffler, who now heads up Oblong Technologies, has developed MezzanineTM, the technology being used in this space. Using the screens, smartphones, computers and tablets, plus a dedicated WiFi network, a staff member can share documents, whether presentations or multi-media files, modify them via a remote control, and make them available for collaboration with other colleagues.

The technology may seem extremely sophisticated but the aim is very simple: to encourage collaboration and creativity.

This is the way we’ll need to work in the future. With MezzanineTM, I want to give people the ability to work together, so that they can project their ideas via an interactive workspace that will help them make decisions faster and more efficiently,” explains Underkoffler, underlining: “For the last 30-35 years, people have been designing computers to serve just one person. I realised that a large piece of the puzzle was missing, in terms of the way we view computing. And that piece is collaboration!
Delta Room users are able to draw, project, and construct their project together. This way of working is standard practice in the physical world, where you often perform actions and carry out activities simultaneously, but this was not the way things used to work in the digital world. Until now….

So what does the future hold? In the very near future MezzanineTM could start to be used in the healthcare sector. “Working together is essential. It just isn’t good enough for a single physician to make decisions based on a patient’s data! We need a number of brains to be working on a given problem. All of them need to be able to see the information, discuss it, draw up a diagnosis and then take decisions together,” insists John Underkoffler.

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