Motion tracking and gesture controls have become common with the rollout of Microsoft Kinect and other sensor-based devices. But what if the sensors were on your wrist, not across the room?

Tracking a hand in 3D space using sensors on the wrist. (Credit: Microsoft)

Researchers from Microsoft, Newcastle University’s Culture Lab and Greece’s Foundation for Research & Technology  have come up with a way to track the motion of a person’s hand and model it in three-dimensional space from an array of infrared sensors mounted on the wrist.

As demonstrated in the video above, the approach lets users move their hand through the air to zoom in and out of a tablet, control the invisible “dials” of a stereo system, and interact with a game, among many other possible applications.

All of this can happen pretty much anywhere, because the unit is self-contained on the wrist.

Normally this type of setup would require the user to wear a sensor-laden glove.

They call the project “Digits.” Right now, the prototype is bulky enough to get some very odd looks from people on the street, but the researchers say it will get smaller over time.

“Ultimately, we would like to reduce Digits to the size of a watch that can be worn all the time,” says David Kim, a Microsoft Research Ph.D. Fellow from Newcastle University’s Culture Lab, in a Microsoft article about the project. “We want users to be able to interact spontaneously with their electronic devices using simple gestures and not even have to reach for their devices.”

The researchers are presenting the technology this week at the Association for Computing Machinery Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology in Cambridge, Mass.

No word on when this type of approach might make it to market, but Microsoft groups are able to draw upon the work of the company’s researchers as they come up with new products.

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  • William Vaughn

    This looks very innovative. But having experienced considerable injury to my wrist, I can’t see how it would be particularly comfortable. It’s bulk and size is a real concern–but of course, Moore’s Law probably means it will be 1/10th the size by this time next year. ;)

  • TengFow

    That just looks like a solid plan to me dude, I like the sound of it.

  • AlvinCharles

    I hate negativity, but this is the kind of project that MS wastes money on repeatedly. What is the practical application. What consumer is going to buy a device they have to put on to use? This is a complete waste of brain power. We humans want Minority Report type interfaces. Even Google’s glasses will at least be existing human hardware. This is like that wrist watch that connects to your iphone.

    • guest

      What is the practical application
      Who knows? But if it exists, you can be sure someone other than MS will be the one to find and and productize it.

      • Julio Protzek

        xbox kinect is a good example of the results this type of research can lead

    • Tessa

      Just a reminder: the Minority Report interface in the movie used a little glove that you “put on to use.”

      I think the real solution to something like this is a Kinect interface capable of resolving fine motor movements, but if the technology isn’t there yet, a system like this one allows the Research folks to experiment with gestural interfaces in the meantime.

      I doubt anyone is seriously considering productizing this interface as currently built.

  • Anonymous

    Rosetta Stone should productize this and integrate it into sign-language training software.

  • Pat Galvin

    As a polio with hands, arms and upper body paralyses I can think of many ways a gadget like this would aid every day life from home, to car to work. Wish I was young enough to trial it. More I think about the more applications come to mind – well done.

  • Mark

    I think this is a great technology. I see mainstream applications as well as the possibilities for opening up accessibility for physical disabilities. One concern is what will people who talk with their hands (not signing) do when their device thinks they are attempting some action?

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