Move To Your Own Rithmio

8/11/2014

Stephany Guerrero

It’s like a scene out of a Minority Report. Swiping his hand left to right a few feet from his laptop, Adam controls Google Maps seemingly by magic. On his wrist is a prototype device that resembles a smart watch. The software powering the device is called Rithmio, and it’s going to revolutionize the gesture recognition market.

Click here for a quick demo of the Google Maps movement

Meet Adam Tilton, CEO and co-founder of Rithmio. Tilton began exploring the gesture recognition technology while he was a doctoral student at Illinois. During the summer of 2013, Tilton attended a wearable technology conference that featured gesture recognition technology demonstrations by some of the leading companies in the world.

So how was the laptop able to detect Tilton’s movements?

Before he demonstrated the Google Maps movement, Tilton taught Rithmio his hand-gestures in less than six seconds. His laptop flashed, “ready-set-go,” and the accelerometer measured his rotations through a Bluetooth connection. He named each hand-gesture, “left-right-up-down.”

“While gesture recognition isn’t something new, there is a tremendous opportunity to improve the accuracy of gesture recognition,” said Tilton.  Tilton felt he had a novel technology idea to do exactly that.  The idea was inspired by technology innovations that Adam had been thinking about and developing as part of his doctoral work at Illinois.

Tilton shared his idea with Prashant Mehta who was then his Ph.D. Advisor and an associate professor in the department of mechanical engineering. What started off as a research project quickly evolved into a startup.

“I’ve collaborated with hundreds of students in my career on project ideas,” said Mehta. “Adam’s passion for his idea, soundness of the concept, and keen business sense caught my attention. Our relationship evolved from academia to business partners because there was such a great fit with both of our personalities and interests.”

Why is the ability to recognize gestures accurately so important?

From people tracking their steps with Fitbit, Thalmic Labs controlling drones with a twist of user’s wrist, to connected gloves that can recognize American Sign Language, gesture-based technologies are gaining momentum in consumer and business sectors.

Accuracy is crucial to this emerging technology because everybody moves differently. The arm movements of a small child playing basketball have variations from the movements of a professional basketball player. The way an elderly person walks differs from how a teenager walks.

Creating algorithms that recognize specific gestures with a high degree of accuracy is a challenge. The result is many products don’t make it to the market at all due to the difficulty of writing gesture recognition software well.

Rithmio’s software has two features that set it apart. The user can train it to recognize distinct gestures, and once trained, it can distinguish the gesture and provide precise analysis.

“Rithmio is enabling,“ Tilton continued. “If you’re Nike and you are creating a wearable device like FuelBand for motion sensing, you have to hire a team of people to develop algorithms and software for you. This drastically slows down product development. Rithmio helps companies innovate.” Tilton said.

Technology that is this precise seems like something out of a future fiction piece. Yet Rithmio plans to release the first version of their software soon. The software will be easy to use and will include a developer’s kit compatible with almost any smart device.

For this start-up, 2014 represents a year of great momentum. Earlier this year, Rithmio won the Cozad competition that is held by the Technology Entrepreneur Center (TEC).

“The Cozad experience served as a learning experience with peers steeped in healthy competition. There is something to be said for being among a group of people all interested in the same thing. Making it to the ‘play-offs’ of entrepreneurship on campus was exciting.

It was a turning point for us to realize Rithmio is bigger than an academic project and has great potential in the market,” Tilton said.

Both Tilton and co-founder, Prashant Mehta, stress how important the entrepreneurial culture on campus is to their start-up.

“The support from the TEC office has been tremendous,” Mehta said. “There is a great spirit of entrepreneurship on this campus, and that energy always gets the boost it needs from the TEC. For Illinois, this is only the start of something great that is only going to grow and expand. Everybody knows of this university as a great research institution. But Illinois has also succeeded in building a supportive entrepreneurial community. Most of our graduate students go on to be professors and researchers. But today I see more and more students innovating, and applying their innovations while they are still in grad school. As an educator it is very heartening to be able to experience the breaking of new ground, by a new generation of innovators and entrepreneurs.”