Here’s how interfaces normally break down. You’ve got your conventional, tactile interfaces, like a knob. You’ve got your touch interfaces, which lack tactile feedback (you touch them, but they don’t push back). You’ve got your gestural interfaces, which have you waving your hands in the air without touching anything and without any tactile feedback. (They’re generally the most challenging, because your brain has no feedback for what it’s doing.)

Syntact creates an entirely new category. It’s a gestural interface, of the “waving your hands around in the air” sort. But while your hand is in mid-air and isn’t touching anything, it does provide tactile feedback. It pushes back as you move your hand around, giving you interactive feedback. The way it pulls it off: sound. 121 ultrasonic transducers beam sound at a particular point, so that you feel something as you move.

You can see a bit of what this means in the new video, above. I’m hoping to get a hands-on (erm, hands-off) demo soon from the designer. The basic specs:

  • Optical analysis of gestures, using a USB camera built into the interface
  • MIDI control, for use with any live performance or music making rig (or other media)
  • A control panel for selecting different sonic images and adjusting scaling.
  • A built-in music solution visualizes sound and makes it easier to map to your own MIDI files.

More information:

Also well worth checking out the directional speaker tech from these Slovenia-based developers – directional sound is another huge area of innovation.

If you want to try this in person, it’ll be at the Beam Festival in London in late June.

Side note: Yes, I’m looking into that LEAP thing, for more gestures, albeit without tactile feedback. Stay tuned.

  • Experimentaldog

    I tried this last year at a private demo.  A very weird sensation indeed.  I had experienced ultrasonic speakers before, but the focal point of sound energy on this thing is crazy.  It tickles your hand while you hover over it.

  • NTBK

    the part with the singer is super lame. i don’t understand what the hell the thing is actually doing in the demo… just manipulate pre-programmed midi patterns? seems about as stupid as a kaossilator, only way more expensive i assume. 

    • Peter Kirn

      It’s unrelated to a Kaossilator other than there is some some sort of continuous control across a plane.

      Video demos are hard to make. Making a video demo of something that gives you a physical sensation with no visible evidence – that’s actually impossible. I’ll let you know once I get to try it, and I expect I’ll also make more video.

    • Jerry Stebel

      It’s highly related to the Kaossilator in the sense that you have a complex controller that’s used only to control basic effects on pre-programmed patterns.

    • Peter Kirn

      Right, but it is a three-dimensional controller – fairly different. (How is a Kaossilator complex?)

      Anyway, input to output mapping can be whatever you like. So, it sounds like the criticism here is partly of the mapping.

    • Jerry Stebel

      (Can’t reply to your comment (max nests?)…)

      But yeah, the mapping and the demonstration was a bit lame. I would’ve personally liked to see some massive hand swiping dubstep wobbles, to be honest.

    • Ultrasonic

      The computer vision software on Syntact outputs raw image descriptors: (quantity of motion, area coverage, contour length, bounding box, coordinates of fingertips, angles of fingers…) in OSC as well as in MIDI format… So basically you can do whatever you want with this data…

      The first video shows just one of the possible interpretations of this data… More videos will follow soon…

  • ghost dog

    worst video demo ever.

    • Peter Kirn

      Well, so… you’re saying you want both the brilliant controller *and* a brilliant demo video.

      In other words, you can’t help feeling / We could have had it all?

      There’s a fire starting in their hearts / Reaching a fever pitch, / Bringing trolls out of the dark…

      (sorry, couldn’t resist…)



  • Blownawish

    Wow, troll city – seems usual at CDM to have such harsh tones. 

    The concept looks pretty interesting to me – finally something that bridges the gestural-tangible gap. But it will be even more interesting to see what people actually do with it. Any ball-park figure for the cost of this thing? I wonder if since it uses ultrasonics whether it generates any noise while in use.

  • Blownawish

    oops i meant, it seems UNUSUAL to have so many trolls at CDM.

  • Graham Leake

    this has potential to be amazing, but it will only be so if it is completely intuitive.

  • Eplus

    I realise I’m a couple of months late to this, but this is awesome. I’ve always felt that th issue stopping wave-your-arms-in-the-air devices progressing as music controllers is the lack of actual resistance. It’s one of the things that acoustic instruments still have over electronic controllers. This is very exciting though.

    I’m no physics expert, but I really think something like this could be utilised in a much larger form, such as strapping repulsing and attracting devices to each hand of a kinect user? That way, despite the hopelessly slow frame rate, the kinect can come closer to becoming a realistically and musical music performance tool.

    Love the site by the way, long time fan, first time poster.