The Weather at a Flip of the Wrist

Baron Services and Cybernet are introducing a technology that will literally give meteorologists a better grip on their forecasts. The gesture-based Gesturecast system allows on-air talent to use hand gestures to zoom in and out of radar and maps.

"It basically allows hand signals to manipulate images," says Glenn Beach, director of technology for Cybernet, the company that designed the system. The company originally developed it for use by the military and NASA. Department of Defense training simulators used it as a virtual translator for hand signals, increasing the realism of the simulation. NASA used it to create virtual information kiosks that wouldn't require hardware that can be stolen or broken.

Baron Services has been looking into gesture technology for several years, according to Chief Product Officer Bob Baron Jr. "We couldn't find anything that worked the way we wanted it to. Generally, those systems require programming in a sequence. This one is the first one that is designed for use on the fly."

Gesturecast is currently available exclusively from Baron Services for use with the company's Fastrac storm-tracking software and the VIPIR 3D Doppler radar system. Pricing is $10,000 for a system that can be used with either the Fastrac or the VIPIR system, $12,500 for a system that can be used with both.

The Baron Services systems are live 2D and 3D graphics systems, and they've found particular popularity in the tornado belt because they're geared toward severe-weather situations. The ability for on-air talent to react quickly and in real time is important when dealing with life-threatening weather developments.

"Other systems don't work with breaking news and also require a sequence to be memorized," says Baron. "But this system is completely interactive. The user can put their hand out and make a motion like rolling a ball, and the whole system rolls as if they were using a computer mouse."

The system uses a sophisticated version of background tracking based on laws of motion and Newtonian dynamics, Beach explains. The user stands in front of a chroma key screen, and the system recognizes hands held away from the body and interprets the motion commands. The technical approach is different from other methods of gesture technology, such as hidden-markout modeling, which often requires movements to be very tightly controlled. The Gesturecast system is designed to be more forgiving, recognizing a gesture even if it isn't perfect.

Next month, the system will be deployed at three stations. It is currently being used at WKMG-TV Orlando, Fla., which had approached Cybernet, which has an office in Orlando, about building the system. When Cybernet said the system was usable, WKMG-TV pointed the company in the direction of Baron Services because the station wanted the system to work with its Fastrac system.

The current system, Baron says, is only a first step. Future developments include integration with a sensor system, which would allow on-air talent to reach up and pull down a weather graphic or push a map off to the side. Right now, changing the graphics is accomplished with a small switcher built into the Fastrac or VIPIR system.

Beach believes the technology potentially can be applied to sports coverage, game shows and more.