When using illustration or drawing software,
it's necessary to first chose a tool — such as a pen, brush or even a piece of charcoal — from a menu. And although the on-screen effect varies for each tool, the illustrator still grips the stylus the same way. Similarly, when using a
smartphone, a person typically clicks on an app to select a function — such as phone or camera. And then the user holds the phone a particular way to carry out that function, whether it's making a call or taking a picture.
But soon it could be all in the grip. Researchers are working on a way to engage the function of an electronic device simply by the way it's held. They call it FlexAura, for "flexible near-surface range sensor." It would allow an illustrator, for example, to hold a stylus like a brush and immediately engage the brush tool in the software. Or if a person held her phone like a camera, the camera app would pop up.
Senwei Liu and Francois
Guimbretière at Cornell University presented their prototype
at the ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology in Boston this
The technology itself is a
set of infrared LEDs wrapped around a pen-shaped stylus, which is connected to
a computer. The LEDs sit alongside photo-transistors that pick up how the
infrared light is reflected off of a person's hand as they hold the stylus.
That allows the software to create a
kind of topographic map of the shape of the grip, which indicates how the pen is being held. "The pressure of the grip
doesn't mater," Guimbretière, an associate professor of information
science at Cornell, told Discovery News. "What matters is the
When the user grips the
"pen" in a different way, the software can read that as input — and
change tools, as in the drawing program example.
The next step, he said, is
to build a wireless connection because the prototype's wired link is a bit
cumbersome. He added that it might be possible to use a system of capacitive
touch sensors to accomplish the same thing. That would lend itself better to
devices such as phones, as LEDs tend to be power-hungry and battery life is at
a premium. The difficulty is that capacitive touch sensors only tell you where
a hand is contacting the device, not how far away the surface is.
Credit: Shenwei Liu / Francios Guimbretière
Via: "FlexAura: A Flexible
Near-Surface Range Sensor" presented at UIST