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Wave of the Future?

Imagine answering a phone by using a thumbs-up gesture. Or changing a TV channel with a wave of your hand. Researcher David Kim believes we’ll do these things and more, thanks to a prototype sensor gadget called Digits (watch a demonstration) that he helped develop.

Kim, a Microsoft Research Fellow from Newcastle University’s Culture Lab, is taking the next steps in furthering what researchers call Human Computer Interaction. Advances in the field have brought us data gloves, input devices worn as gloves that are most often used in virtual-reality applications, and the Microsoft Kinect, which uses sensors to detect bare hand movements. 

Kim hopes to shrink the now-bulky device so users can wear it like a wristwatch and “naturally communicate with their surroundings and personal computing devices with simple hand gestures.” The gadget may also offer potential for sign language recognition.

Mobility always has been one of the research team’s goals. “The Digits sensor doesn’t rely on external infrastructure,” Kim explains, “which means users are not bound to a fixed space. They can interact while moving from room to room or running down the street. This finally takes 3-D interaction outside the living room.”

While offering mobility, researchers emphasized that Digits had to “understand” the human hand, from wrist movement to the angle of each finger joint. “We had to understand our own body parts first before we could formulate their workings mathematically,” Kim says. “We spent hours just staring at our fingers. We read dozens of scientific papers about the biomechanical properties of the human hand."

MIT’s Technology Review called it “one of the most eye-catching, and potentially promising, ideas” at the recent Association for Computing Machinery Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology in Cambridge, Mass.

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