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Kinect and WorldWide Telescope combo lets you control the cosmos with your fingers

April 20, 2011 | William Zimmerman
by Alan Boyle, via ISPR 

Control the cosmos with your fingers

What do you get when you cross a WorldWide Telescope with a Kinect motion-sensing game controller? You get the "universe at your fingertips," according to Microsoft Research's Curtis Wong, who demonstrated the gesture-controlled cosmos today at the MIX11 conference in Las Vegas.

Actually, having the universe at your fingertips is how Wong has thought of the freely available WorldWide Telescope project since it was first unveiled in 2008. The software, which is freely available through a Web-based interface and as a standalone program, displays the night sky and lets users zoom in on cosmic imagery from a wide variety of sources. You can even go on 3-D fly-throughs of distant galaxies, or create your own tours of celestial hot spots.

But back then, Wong was talking in terms of fingertips tapping on a keyboard or guiding a computer mouse. Now, thanks to the Microsoft's Kinect controller, he can control the cosmos on a trio of high-definition video projectors, just by waving his hands in the air. ( is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal.)

"If I just move my fingers out about a half-inch, the earth suddenly begins zooming in, more and more. ... Then I bring my fingers together, and the earth retreats," Wong told me.

The effect is similar to the hand-waving tricks that Tom Cruise's character used to manipulate virtual displays in the movie "Minority Report" -- only better, at least in Wong's estimation. "First of all, Tom Cruise had to wear these funny gloves with lights on them," Wong said. "We don't have to do that. ... We have a lot more control than he did. He had to move things on a 2-D surface and rotate them."

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