3D Control Through Wrist Device
October 9, 2012

Microsoft Shows Off Glove-less, Gesture-based 3D Control

Michael Harper for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

Traditional and mobile computing are great and even very futuristic in many ways. For all of the advances, however, there is still one pesky little problem: We still have to touch something.

This week, Microsoft researchers will descend on Cambridge, Massachusetts to attend the 25th Association for Computing Machinery Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology, or UIST. Here, some of these researchers will be showing off Digits, a gloveless 3D sensor worn on the wrist. In other words, this device is like a mini Kinect System, detecting hand and finger movement and creating a real-time 3D model to either control a game or program or even display gestures and signs.

The idea of controlling devices touch-free through gestures isn´t a new one, and several other companies have recently released their own solutions.

Where Microsoft´s Digits differs from Leap Motion´s 3D Motion Control is its wearability and potential compatibility with mobile devices.

“The Digits sensor doesn´t rely on external infrastructure,” said co-author of an accompanying paper David Kim as he explained this new concept device on the Microsoft Research blog.

Since this device is strapped on to the wrist, a user doesn´t need to be bound to a mounted sensor, such as with the Leap Motion controller or even Microsoft´s own Kinect system.

“They can interact while moving from room to room or running down the street. This finally takes 3-D interaction outside the living room,” says Kim.

The team wanted to make sure their device was as small and comfortable as possible, all while having enough power to last through an entire day. The end result combines an infrared red (IR) camera as well as an IR laser line generator which generates an invisible grid along the hand to detect and measure any change and movement. The device also has an IR diffuse illuminator and inertial-measurement unit (UMI, similar to an accelerometer found in smartphones) to further track even the most subtle of hand movements and gestures. As this device is worn on the wrist, there are no line-of-sight issues, meaning a user can control their computer, television, tablet or phone with either wild, in-the-air gestures or simply with their arm hanging by their side.

This new concept device isn´t only similar to the existing Microsoft Kinect unit in functionality; The two devices have similar lineage as members of the Kinect team worked to develop Digits.

Shahram Izadi and team first began tinkering with this kind of technology with Kinect and later wanted to make an even smaller, more powerful version of a 3D controller.

“We decided to look for more direct ways to sense 3-D data on the hand,” said Izadi in the Microsoft Research blog.

“From a previous project, we knew that a simple laser line generator and camera can be used to measure distances within a specific area. We also knew that there were products on the market that could act as a cheap wireless infrared camera with the ability to sense the laser projection. The signal we got back from one such camera was very weak, but it was enough to convince us to pursue working on a lightweight and mobile hand tracker.”

The Digits team will be presenting their paper as well as a video and several possible applications for Digits during this week´s UIST´s events.