Microsoft researchers have come up with a way to make devices sensitive to touch input through fabric — for silencing a phone or even entering text without taking the device out of a pocket or bag.

The project, dubbed PocketTouch, uses a custom sensor on the back of a smartphone that can detect multitouch gestures even through heavy fleece or a jacket pocket. Microsoft researchers have developed a working prototype and are slated to present the project this week at the Association for Computing Machinery Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology in California.

Apart from getting the sensor to work through fabric, a major challenge was orientation. Devices can be placed into pockets and bags at all sorts of direction or angle, making it difficult for the sensor to interpret gestures. As explained in this Microsoft Research article, their solution is a consistent “orientation-defining unlock gesture” that essentially tells the device which way is up.

As with most Microsoft Research projects, there’s no word on when or even whether this technology will make it to market, but the company’s product teams often mine its research for ideas to implement in their products.

Microsoft researchers Scott Saponas and Hrvoje Benko authored the PocketTouch paper along with Chris Harrison, a Ph.D. student at Carnegie Mellon University and a former Microsoft Research intern.

Also at the conference, Microsoft is presenting a project called OmniTouch that uses a pico projector and a depth camera to let people interact with programs projected onto their skin or other surfaces. The company first previewed that project at a recent Microsoft Research event.

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  • Lbowman

    Finally, butt-dialing can be brought to the masses!

    oh…yeah…they already have it…

  • Guest

    And some people wonder how MS manages to spend 8x more on R&D than Apple, but that company is now larger, faster growing, more valuable, and dominating two markets MS has a decade head start in: mobile and tablets.


    If this works all the people living in the snowbelt will rejoice… they’ll be able to use their smartphone with their gloves on!

  • Anonymous

    OK you have to admit dude that is gonna be way cool! Wow.

  • Carlos_sierra

    What’s going to happen with most of woman?  They usually don’t put their cellphone in their pockets …..

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