Kinect and Xbox game stations have made gesture control mainstream. And how cool would it be to have that on our laptops and phones? But the technology behind it — cameras and infrared light — can't be easily shrunk down to mobile devices.
Now researchers from Microsoft and the University of Washington have found a way to give gesture control to smaller devices using sound. It's called SoundWave, and the goal behind it is to work with the mic and speakers that already exist on phones, laptops and tablets.
The SoundWave software, designed by Sidhant Gupta, Dan Morris, Shwetak Patel and Desney Tan, generates a tone with a frequency that most people can't hear — although they say it might bother dogs and more sensitive kids. When a person moves her hand in front of the computer, it causes the sound wave to bounces around, which changes the tone's frequency. The change in frequency tells the computer where the hand is and what direction it's moving. The software then translates that motion into scrolling, zooming or clicking — for example, moving two hands apart would zoom in.
The distance the sound waves travel depends on the volume, which can be adjusted, since every device has that built in as well. A higher volume will pick up gestures further away and a lower volume will only pick up those that are closer. That way SoundWave won't pick up movement from motion in the background.
One demonstration involved playing a game of Tetris entirely via SoundWave gestures. Because the system uses inaudible signals, SoundWave won't interfere with music being played on the device. The processing is also good enough to function in a noisy cafe, and because SoundWave uses less processing power than visually driven gesture control, it's less energy-intensive.
In related work, Patel, Tan and Morris have worked on a way to turn a person in an antenna. By harnessing the electromagnetic interference that comes from appliances and just about every electrical system a person could use their body to control devices.
The SoundWave software still needs some work before it is released as a product, but the team will be presenting their findings at the upcoming ACM SIGCHI conference.
Credit: Microsoft Research / University of Washington