Google's Flutter Buy: Big Gesture?

Google's purchase of Flutter, a startup whose desktop application lets users control other apps using hand gestures, suggests motion control soon will be a bigger part of Chrome, Glass and Android.

Thomas Claburn, Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

October 3, 2013

3 Min Read

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Google has acquired Flutter, a startup that makes a desktop app of the same name that allows users to control other applications using hand gestures. Flutter describes the Mac version of its app as "Kinect for OS X." There's also a Windows version.

No price was disclosed. TechCrunch reports the price was around $40 million.

Flutter works by capturing the user's hand gesture on a computer's webcam and then translating the gesture, using image processing techniques, into a specific command in supported applications. It can be used, for example, to play and pause songs playing in iTunes on a Mac or Windows computer with just a wave of the hand.

Currently, Flutter works with Ecoute, Keynote, iTunes, MPlayerX, Powerpoint, Rdio, Spotify, QuickTime, VLC and Windows Media Player and — through a Chrome extension — Grooveshark, Pandora, Netflix and YouTube.

[ Some day, all the major apps might be able to respond to gestures. In the meantime, read 13 Favorite iOS, Android Apps. ]

Asked whether Google plans to make the app work on other platforms, such as Android, a Google spokeswoman said only, "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."

However, the fact that the Flutter app already works as a Chrome extension suggests the technology at the very least will be integrated with Chrome OS and Chromebooks at some later date.

Google might also be looking at Flutter as a source of engineering talent in the field of computer vision. Google Glass, the company's computerized eyewear, would certainly benefit from the ability to recognize gestures, in addition to swipes along the frame and spoken directives.

Flutter CEO Navneet Dalal expressed his gratitude to the users of the company's app in a post on the company's website. He wrote, "We're inspired everyday when we hear, for example, that Flutter makes you feel like a superhero — because any sufficiently advanced technology should be indistinguishable from magic, right?"

It's not so much magic as evidence of innovation in computer interaction. After decades of reliance mainly on the keyboard and mouse, the mobile revolution has led researchers to explore touch, voice, gestures, location, eye movement, device movement and even thought as ways to control software applications.

Microsoft Kinect, Nintendo's Wii Remote, smartphones as TV remotes, and the Leap Motion controller — soon to appear in an HP laptop — all represent examples of new thinking about how we should interact with our machines.

In fact, Google's previous acquisition, Bump, also falls into this category: Bump provides a way to transfer files between mobile and desktop devices using motion-sensing, timing data and location data in lieu of a typed or spoken command.

Flutter marks Google's ninth acquisition this year, three shy of the dozen companies it bought in 2012.

About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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