Dec 182010
 

Gesture Computing on the Cheap

With a single piece of inexpensive hardware — a multicolored glove — MIT researchers are making Minority Report-style interfaces more accessible.

Ever since Steven Spielberg’s 2002 sci-fi movie Minority Report, in which a black-clad Tom Cruise stands in front of a transparent screen manipulating a host of video images simply by waving his hands, the idea of gesture-based computer interfaces has captured the imagination of technophiles. Academic and industry labs have developed a host of prototype gesture interfaces, ranging from room-sized systems with multiple cameras to detectors built into laptops’ screens. But MIT researchers have developed a system that could make gestural interfaces much more practical. Aside from a standard webcam, like those found in many new computers, the system uses only a single piece of hardware: a multicolored Lycra glove that could be manufactured for about a dollar.

Other prototypes of low-cost gestural interfaces have used reflective or colored tape attached to the fingertips, but “that’s 2-D information,” says Robert Wang, a graduate student in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory who developed the new system together with Jovan Popovi?, an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science. “You’re only getting the fingertips; you don’t even know which fingertip [the tape] is corresponding to.” Wang and Popovi?’s system, by contrast, can translate gestures made with a gloved hand into the corresponding gestures of a 3-D model of the hand on screen, with almost no lag time. “This actually gets the 3-D configuration of your hand and your fingers,” Wang says. “We get how your fingers are flexing.”

The most obvious application of the technology, Wang says, would be in video games: Gamers navigating a virtual world could pick up and wield objects simply by using hand gestures. But Wang also imagines that engineers and designers could use the system to more easily and intuitively manipulate 3-D models of commercial products or large civic structures.

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