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The desire to reach out and touch objects in virtual reality appears to be becoming a much more realistic prospect thanks to hand-tracking technology being developed by Microsoft Research.

A new story on Microsoft’s Next Blog details the team and science involved in the breakthrough project, Handpose, in which movements are tracked in reality and accurately recreated in a virtual setting. A video showing the technology in action will excite anyone who thought we were a long way off from communicating with our devices without touching them.

The complexity of the human hand and the ability to track its many movements makes the work of the team at Microsoft’s Cambridge, UK, research lab all the more impressive. The video, in fact, shows how the physical interactions in the VR environment come close to a haptic experience — relating to the perception and manipulation of objects via touch.

“If we can make vision work reliably, speech work reliably and gesture work reliably, then people designing things like TVs, coffee machines or any of the Internet of Things gadgets will have a range of interaction possibilities,” Andrew Fitzgibbon, a principal researcher with the computer vision group, said on the Next Blog.

Fast Company writes that the potential implications are obvious across Microsoft’s portfolio: “The Xbox’s Kinect could finally live up to its potential to recognize tiny motions. The Microsoft Surface could work largely without a keyboard. The Hololens could provide virtual UIs to challenge keyboards and mice.”

Fast Company also goes so far as to say Microsoft could eventually build an “Echo-killer” to take over the home, going beyond what Amazon, Apple and Google do with just voice. “Microsoft could use voice, combined with gestures, to create a more discreet, empathetic, ambient computing environment for us all,” the site theorizes.

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