It’s a soda machine. No, it’s a headline service!

Technology has not always marched inexorably and inevitably forward. For example, to stand in the Pantheon in Rome and gaze upward at its 142-foot-high dome (circa A.D. 126) is to be reminded that, once Rome fell, the required technology for awe-inspiring domes essentially could not be duplicated by what remained of “Western civilization” for roughly a thousand years. (In the 15th Century would ultimately come Brunelleschi’s cathedral dome in Florence and Michelangelo’s for St. Peter’s Basilica, both of which Linda and I also saw on our trip to Milan, Venice, Florence, Siena, and Rome last month.)

Owen meets the GestureCooler

Give me where to stand, and I will move the news …

I would submit that another pertinent example of my opening point, also arising from my recent travels, might be the gesture-controlled Pepsi machine I encountered at a convenience store while taking a motorcoach from Lake Como to Venice.

You say you’re excited by the prospect of using the Leap Motion Controller to play games on your laptop? You say you have always dreamed of feeling like Mickey Mouse in the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” segment of “Fantasia”? You say you want to have people stare at you even when you’re not wearing Google Glass?

Well then, meet the GestureCooler from Prosa, a magical contraption that will interpret your hand signals, take your picture, give you news headlines and the weather forecast, connect you to Facebook, and maybe even sell you a soft drink. I see from the Web that it’s the followup to the company’s 2011 EmotiCooler for Pepsi Italia; I’d link you to a video of that device, but you’d never come back. (Oh, all right, here you go.)

Since I wasn’t about to buy a Pepsi, I had plenty of time to experiment with the GestureCooler’s interface. A Google translation of the above-linked product page says it relies on a thermal imaging camera, so the comparison to Leap and its infrared sensors isn’t too far afield: I just needed to figure out how far away from it to stand (something that, by the way, would seem to inhibit opportunities for an actual product purchase).

That done, moving my hand within the view of the camera let me “grab” icons on the screen to choose among the applications.

The GestureCooler in action

From left to right: application selection, language choice, Italian weather. Who needs Kinect?

None of them, however, actually told me why an actual soft-drink consumer would choose arm-waving over thirst-slaking on a hot Italian afternoon. What’s the “job to be done” here, anyway? Making me ignore the fact that I might have been in the only place in Europe that didn’t seem to sell Coca-Cola?

In the New York Times, David Pogue discerned a not unrelated problem with the Leap interface: “If your app involves only two-dimensional movements, of the sort you’d make with a mouse, then the Leap adds nothing to it.” Ditto the GestureCooler. Walking up to the, ahem, first-generation EmotiCooler and dragging my fingers across its surface would be equally effective … and make it easier to actually buy me a soda pop.

Google Glass shadesBack, then, to finding more ways of integrating Google Glass into my day-to-day routine . . . and then working on ways of integrating the device into a newsgatherer’s day-to-day routine. In one recent development, I believe I have decided that attaching the Google-made custom shades to Glass makes one feel a little less conspicuous.

Well, less conspicuous than an American journalism professor waving his hand at a Italian pop machine somewhere across the room.

About Owen Youngman

Professor Emeritus of Journalism and formerly Knight Chair in Digital Media Strategy, Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University. Formerly senior vice president/strategy and development and director of interactive media, Chicago Tribune.