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USC VIDEO: Techies Pwn Google, Turn 'Gmail Motion' April Fool's Prank Into Reality

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Tue, Apr 5, 2011 at 3:15 PM
click to enlarge YOUTUBE
  • YouTube

Updated after the jump: One of the USC techies shows us how to work real-life Gmail Motion. And it's ever radder than we thought.

Google unleashed many a poke in the rib on April Fool's Day 2011. There was the Helvetica-turned-Comic Sans search -- a budding typophile's wet dream -- and the job opening for "autocompleters," a thoughtful commentary on the digital age. Snore.

It's almost as if a team of pseudo-nerdy Young Urban Professionals, not the true brains of the company, was behind the gags. (What is this, Facebook??)

Take "Gmail Motion" --

Perhaps the most humorous of the lot. In the fake YouTube preview, Google execs pretend to introduce new technology that allows users to read and write emails using gestures and body movements:

But according to a reverse gag from the University of Southern California's own Institute for Creative Technologies, it turns out doing the Gmail dance isn't so hilariously farfetched after all. (LOL, the future!)

Here's USC's response to Google's big funny:

Uhhh, yeah, so, it appears USC actually developed that shit way back in the Industrial Revolution. Psh. April Fool's THIS, Paul McDonald.

CNN Tech totally gets the joke:

The project uses the sensor from Microsoft's Kinect gaming system for the Xbox.

Of course the project is also done with tongue firmly in cheek. Take its name, the Software Library Optimizing Obligatory Waving (SLOOW).

"This application is pretty ridiculous," reads text at the end of the video, which had been viewed more than 230,000 times as of Monday afternoon. "However, the software powering it is real."

Here's where you can download the USC institute's "Flexible Action and Articulated Skeleton Toolkit (FAAST)" technology. We don't have all the crazy software requirements to make it happen, but if anybody does, please let us know how dance-dance-revolutionary these USC miracles really are.

In any case, it's good to see the reigning kings of Internet get their ass handed to them once in a while. They may own the masses, but they can't pwn the true nerds among us.

click to enlarge Evan Suma, man of the hour - YOUTUBE
  • YouTube
  • Evan Suma, man of the hour

Update: Evan Suma, the post-doctoral hunk in the USC video (no, not that one), explains that the "FAAST" technology is real -- with some limitations.

See, if you wanted to use the motion-capture system to actually type out your entire email, you'd have to program it with a gesture for every single word.

"I think the joke here is that it would be really cumbersome to write emails," says Suma. "But theoretically, if you wanted to do it, you could."

Here's how the technology works: Gmail has a function you can activate called "keyboard shortcuts." So for every shortcut you want to activate, you can assign a gesture, through FAAST. Magic!

Even more awesomely, Suma shares the news Georgia Tech is actually taking that next step: developing a motion-capture system "that can recognize sign language." So if you signed "I love you" (we all know that one!), the computer would type "I love you."

Turns out USC's Institute for Technologies is on the cutting edge of the motion-capture business, long commissioned for projects by both the U.S. Army and Hollywood.

Today, ironically, it was a gimmicky Google pwn that put them on the map. Because that's just how viral do.

Originally posted at 8:10 a.m.

[@simone_electra/swilson@laweekly.com]

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