October 29, 2011

iPad, Xbox Makers File Touchless Control Patents

Apple and Microsoft have both filed patents for touchless, gesture-based control systems, setting the stage for a potential battle over ownership of the emerging technology, BBC News reported Friday.

According to the British media outlet's report, Microsoft's patent describes "waving one's hands to 'draw' three-dimensional objects on a computer, while Apple's designs involve allowing users to 'throw' content from one device to another."

Their applications have been made public by the US Patent and Trademark Office, they said.

The two tech giants are not alone in their quest to lay claim to the intellectual rights of certain types of gesture controls, however. The BBC also points out that Qualcomm and Extreme Reality 3D have "acted to secure touchless control patent rights," which would allow them to "prevent others from using the same gesture controls, or charge them a license."

"It's interesting that so many companies are actually investing some very serious time and money into it," Chris Green, a technology analyst at Davies Murphy Group, told BBC News on October 28. "But the jury is still out on whether this whole waving-your-hands-in-the-air will have a long term future outside computer games, and it's still very much a work in progress."

The Apple device would allow users to control images on a device, perhaps an iPhone or iPad, without physically touching it through the use of various types of sensors, including optical and infrared. Possible uses for the system could include transferring photos from one Apple product to another, or transferring a video from a mobile device to a television set by "flicking" it, the BBC says.

The device seems to suggest that the company founded by the late Steve Jobs will be going ahead with oft-rumored plans to release an Apple-branded line of television sets.

Microsoft, on the other hand, has already entered the hands-free control technology through the Kinect motion-sensing attachment for its Xbox 360 video game console. Building on that success, the company's new patent reportedly would allow users to "draw" and "manipulate" virtual three-dimensional objects through simple gestures.

"Microsoft's Kinect system has been widely praised for its accuracy and clarity, and even university research departments are using the Kinect devices, hacking them and using them for their projects," Green told the BBC. "But it is still fairly large, and if you'd like to apply it to a smartphone, you'd need to compress the Kinect down into something the size of your thumb."

"You no longer have to use a mouse to draw a shape - you can just wave your hands in the air and it'll appear," he added in regards to the proposed new technology. "That aspect potentially has some enterprise applications in terms of computer-aided design.... but it's still very expensive."


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