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Natural User Interface is one of the computer user interfaces, which work as naturally as the user speaks to his friend. In Natural User Interface all the verbs, phrases and clauses work as the controls to interact with the software programs. A Natural User Interface is implemented without any intermediate devices between the user and computer. The user itself interacts with the computer using his hands for movement of the objects on the screen and using his speech for working with software applications.
"A common way to state the goal of getting rid of an interface is to call new interface prototypes "natural". The term natural user interface is not an exact expression, but usually means an interface that is easy to use and seamless as possible. The feeling of using an interface can be faded out by not attaching any interaction devices to the user and by designing the dialogue in a way that really is natural and understandable by the user." ( Roope, 1999).
A Natural User Interface reduces the complexity in using the computer. Users should be trained in using the traditional versions of an interface, but natural user interface doesn't require any training.
EVOLUTION OF NATURAL USER INTERFACE
A user interface or a human interface determines how people communicate with, interact with, and use machines. Any machine that requires interaction with human beings will have some sort of user interface. The evolution of user interfaces started right from the communication using flash lights and mechanical switches. A computer uses mechanical switches for communication which are mechanical in nature and to grab the attention of the user flashing lights were used. Highly trained professionals were able to communicate with the computer using this type of interface.
In early decades of the twentieth century when the modern electronic computer was introduced, all the programs were written in machine language, but still only the highly trained specialists could communicate with the computer.
Later video screens were included and these allowed users to interact directly with a computer, but the video screens were Command Line Interfaces, which could display only the characters which are on the keyboard. Users were required to memorize commands to work with command line interfaces.
The next generation of the user interfaces used Graphical User Interfaces (GUI) which became popular with the invention of a mouse. GUI refers to any interface that uses graphics. The usage of commands is replaced by usage of graphics, which helps the users to communicate information visually rather than textually. The usage of graphical representations (windows, icons) instead of text messages makes the user feel comfortable to work without any confusion.
A Natural User Interface, a new trend has evolved in the field of user interfaces which eliminates all the intermediate devices between the user and computer in order to communicate. The user can communicate with the computer with his /her hands and using voice commands.
FEATURES OF NATURAL USER INTERFACE
There are three natural features for Natural User Interface which are easily performed by the humans they are:
Touch Based technology is one of the important features of Natural User Interface. This feature helps the user to perform a task with the help of a single touch. For example, consider iPhone and Microsoft Surface applications. Here the user can drag the objects, enlarge the objects, minimize the objects and many more easily using his hands.
(Fig 3.1. taken from Microsoft 2007)
Multi-touch contact refers to the ability to have multiple contact points with an interface, unlike with a mouse where there is one cursor. The user can draw, manipulate shapes and move data with one or five or ten fingers. The user can actually grab the digital information with their hands and interact with content by touch, without the use of a mouse or keyboard (Microsoft, 2007).
3D User Interface
User Interfaces for computer applications become more enhanced each day. The interface components are getting closer to the users. Initially there were many interfacing components such as a mouse, a keyboard, a windows, icons and menus. These help the use to interact with the computer. Now days these interface components are replaced with the interfaces which are natural and easy for the user. A 3D user Interface is such a feature of a Natural user interface which includes the interface components for an immersive virtual environment. A device such as Head Mounted Display (HDM), or a arm mounted display, or a virtual retinal display are used as output devices with input devices such as pinch gloves, orientation trackers and pen-based tablets ( Doug A. Bowman, Ernst Kruijff, Joseph J. LaViola, Jr., 2001).
3.3 Voice Based
The main goal of this feature of Natural User Interface is to create a multimodal system where the user can use a natural way of conversation with the computer same as that of talking with another person. This not limited to a single command. The user can talk just as he/she speaks to another human being. Here the computer will understand what the user is asking the computer to do and perform that work. This makes a natural way of interaction between the computer and the human. (Adler, Davis, 2004)
The applications of Natural User Interface can be found in various fields. Some of the applications of Natural User Interface are examined below.
4.1. Head Mounted Display
This device contains a helmet which facilitates fully immersive viewing conditions and provides interaction with a virtual environment. It provides natural interaction in a virtual environment as if the user is performing an action in the real world. The Head Mounted Devices works on the following principle based on the relation among the perception, the representation and the actions in spatial function to bring up to date locomotion in the environment. The environment has physical specifically internal representations of the space are influenced. Head Mounted Devices brought up to date for both visual and entrance of motoric input (Peter, Mark, Sarah & William, 2009).
C:\Documents and Settings\S509448\My Documents\Bluetooth Exchange Folder\hmds.jpg
(Fig 4.1. taken from Wolfgang, Irma, Jan, Michel, chunrong & Thomas,2004)
It is worn on the head or as part of a helmet that has a small optical presentation ahead of one display (monocular Head Mounted Device) or two displays (Head Mounted Device binocular). These display units can be Cathode Ray Tube displays or a Liquid Crystal Display or a Light Emitting Diode, displays the images from the computer.
4.2. Microsoft Surface
A Microsoft Surface is a computer that is easy to use because its operation comes completely naturally to people. There are no commands or keyboard instructions to memorize - users can begin to manage the Microsoft Surface within seconds of sitting down at one. A Microsoft Surface implements Natural User Interface features such as Multi-touch contact, which refers to the ability to have multiple contact points with an interface, unlike with a mouse, where there is only one cursor. A Microsoft Surface is "Multi touch." No need to use a single finger or mouse pointer.
Multi-user is a benefit of multi-touch -- several people can orient themselves on different sides of the surface to interact with an application simultaneously. It can accommodate multiple users, all working simultaneously on a Microsoft Surface.
A Microsoft Surface uses cameras to sense objects, hand gestures and touch. This user input is then processed and displayed using rear projection. A Microsoft Surface uses this rear projection system which displays an image onto the underside of the thin diffuser. The Surface Image processing system processes the camera images to detect fingers, custom tags and other objects such as paint brushes when touching the display. The objects recognized with this system are applications running in the computer so that they can react to the object shapes, 2D tags, movement and touch (Microsoft, 2010).
(Fig 4.2 taken from Microsoft 2010)
4.3. Xbox Kinect
Kinect is a new gaming project designed by Microsoft where the user need not to touch any gaming controllers but can interact with the computer through Natural User Interface using spoken commands or gestures. It is made of sensors and cameras, which provide full body 3D motion capture, facial recognition and voice recognition. It is equipped with multiple depth cameras and projectors. A variety of interactions and computational strategies related to interactions are shown displayed on the screen (Wilson & Benko, 2010).
C:\Documents and Settings\S509448\My Documents\Bluetooth Exchange Folder\Xbox-Kinect-Sports-Games.jpg
(Fig 4.3 taken from Kathy, 2010)
The Roboceptionist is a robot with human robot interaction which has an adaptive dialogue feature. This means this robot can engage in adaptive dialogues with users. A roboceptionist can estimate the information needs of an individual and change its dialogue to suits its needs. For example, a robot hotel receptionist adapts to novices by providing a detailed explanation of a hotel. Doing so improved information exchange for novice participants but did not influence other things (Cristen, Aaron, Matthew, Susan & Sara, 2006).
C:\Documents and Settings\S509448\My Documents\Bluetooth Exchange Folder\roboceptioniest.jpg
(Fig 4.4 taken from Judy, 2004)
Pros and Cons:
Natural User Interfaces has large surface area to view different windows and applications. The user can easily perform data manipulations like selecting, moving, rotating and resizing. The manipulating objects are similar to manipulating them in the real world. Hence the Natural User Interfaces are quick and easy to use. Natural User Interfaces provide multitasking more than one user can orient themselves on different sides of the surface to interact with an application simultaneously. Natural User Interfaces recognizes an object, increases functionality aiding user in speed and ease of use.
The main disadvantage of devices using Natural User Interface is not very expensive. There is no privacy because it Natural User Interface is open for many to view. The visibility of Natural User Interface is affected by finger prints, dirt and human interaction obscuring the interface. These surfaces have less accuracy because fat fingers are not as accurate as mouse or stylus. Because of large surface reaching across the table often cause the arms to ache.
Future of Natural User Interface
Within the next few years many computers will include Natural User Interfaces, This is already happening in iPhones, iPads and Microsoft Surface. Most of our computer interaction will be touch screen and voice control. Of course keyboards and mice will still exist but they will not be the dominant way of interacting with your computing device. The following quote depicts the future of Natural User Interface.
'A computer in every desktop'
Now we say
'Every desktop will be a computer'
Natural User Interfaces are the future of computers. They will fundamentally change the way we interact with technology. Natural User Interfaces will take existing technology and present it in an innovative way. Everyday needs of humans can be replaced by Natural User Interfaces.