Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Remote Control, With a Wave of a Hand

PLAYING a computer game once meant sitting on the couch and pushing buttons on a controller, but those buttons have been disappearing of late, replaced by human gestures that guide the action.

Soon gestures may be controlling more than just games. Scientists at Microsoft Research and the University of Washington have come up with a new system that uses the human body as an antenna. The technology could one day be used to turn on lights, buy a ticket at a train station kiosk, or interact with a world of other computer applications. And no elaborate instruments would be required.

“You could walk up to a ticket-purchasing machine, stand in front and make a gesture to be able to buy your ticket — or set the kind of gas you want at the gas station,” said Desney Tan, a senior researcher at Microsoft Research and one of the creators of the technology. The system, demonstrated so far only in experiments, is “a fascinating step forward,” said Joseph A. Paradiso, an associate professor of media arts and sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and co-director of the Things That Think Consortium.

There is no reason to fear that the new technology will affect people’s health, he said; it merely exploits electromagnetic fields that are already in the air. “Suddenly someone takes advantage of it and opens up an example that is potentially useful,” he said of the new gesture technology.

The innovation is potentially inexpensive, as it requires no handheld wireless wand, as the Nintendo Wii does, or the instrumentation of Microsoft’s Kinect, which uses infrared light and cameras to track motion.

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