John Steven Underkoffler makes a point of bringing his vision of the technological future into the present, as often as he can. The inventor and entrepreneur has created a variety of innovative systems that have been considered futuristic and ahead of their time. In fact, his concept of a novel human-to-machine communication system known as G-Speak has been featured in the science fiction film “Minority Report.” However, the technology is very much real, and Underkoffler continues to work on bringing it to the masses through his Los Angeles, Calif.-based company, Oblong Industries.
Underkoffler was born on June 30, 1967, in Pennsylvania. He attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned an SB. in 1988, an SM in 1991, and a PhD in 1999, all in media arts and sciences. As part of his doctoral work, he invented a system known as the Luminous Room, which utilized his I/O Bulb to transform architectural space to make each surface present capable of displaying and collecting visual information.
The I/O Bulb is based on a traditional light bulb, but is able to not only project light, but also collect live video of the objects and surfaces it projects light onto. The Luminous Room may then be used as an optics simulator for a variety of purposes; Underkoffler sees the I/O Bulb as having applications for urban planning and architectural modeling, where planners and designers would be able to observe light patterns and reflections resulting from various arrangements of structures and buildings.
Also based on work done while pursuing his PhD, Underkoffler designed a gestural interface system that came to be known as G-Speak, which allows users to navigate and interact with data in an unprecedented, visually rich, natural and responsive manner. G-Speak interprets a user’s motion to move through datasets without him or her needing to use a computer mouse or any other physical object to do so. Underkoffler served as a technical advisor for Steven Spielberg’s film “Minority Report” starring Tom Cruise to create the film’s gestural interface language, based on his own unique idea. Moviegoers were able to watch Cruise stand before a screen and “motion” his way through massive databases of images, stopping, pausing, and zooming in on any that caught his interest.
The G-Speak Gestural Technology System caught the eye of Raytheon, which helped Underkoffler finance G-Speak, LLC, in 2005, to commercialize the technology. Underkoffler sees the G-Speak system as the next step in human-to-machine communication, with applications in fields as diverse as security and surveillance, air traffic control, shipping, medical imaging, video games, and film production.
Underkoffler has over seven patents and serves as co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Oblong Industries. He also consults for the entertainment industry, and has served as science advisor on films such as “Aeon Flux,” “The Incredible Hulk, ” “Iron Man,” in addition to “Minority Report.”