12 touch-less computer navigation projects

Human-to-computer navigation is developing rapidly, bringing us closer to the day when all devices can be controlled by the user's gestures. By now, most people are familiar with Microsoft Kinect or Nintendo Wii, but those aren't the only gesture-based computing projects currently underway.

Story: The TV is the new tablet: How gesture-based computing is evolving

Disney Research Touche
Credit: YouTube.com
Disney Research's project 'Touché'

Based on capacitive touch sensing, Disney Research's Touché creates a binary profile based on touch interaction. Examples include a doorknob that senses exactly how a user is touching it and the ability to recognize a human hand submerged in water.

Leap Motion Leap
Credit: YouTube.com

With a small, wireless device roughly the size of a USB drive, Leap Motion's Leap has turned some heads. The device recognizes user movement within a 3-cubic-foot space, with reported accuracy down to 0.01mm. When The Verge asked company CTO David Holz if human interaction will be as impressive as the fictional motion control in Steven Spielberg's "Minority Report," he said "it'll be even better."

Microsoft Research Digits
Microsoft Research's Digits

With all these competitive products surfacing, Microsoft is sure not to be caught asleep at the wheel. At last month's Association for Computing Machinery Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology, Microsoft researchers presented Digits, a gloveless sensor device worn on the wrist. Not surprisingly, Microsoft enlisted members of the Microsoft Kinect team to develop it.

Kinect healthcare
Kinect in the operating room

Microsoft Research has another project that uses the Kinect device directly. Adapted for the medical field, the project allows surgeons to interact with medical imaging software displaying the subjects of surgical operations. It can provide major improvements in safety in surgical procedures, with potentially life-saving results.

Apple 3D gesture
Apple's 3D gesture patents

Not to be outdone, Apple has also stepped into the gesture computing world, albeit more quietly. The company has claimed several patents for 3D interfaces, including one that claims to have the potential to impose an "imaginary camera viewfinder" through which iPhone users can access data.

MIT multicolored gloves
MIT's multicolored gloves

These multicolored gloves enable computers to recognize 3D motion of the human hand, and they can be manufactured for roughly $1, according to an MIT News Office report. The gloves were developed to improve upon other gestural prototypes that used reflective or colored tape users wore on their fingertips, which limits the information to two dimensions, the report said.

MIT camera-embedded LCD screen
MIT's camera-embedded LCD screen

Almost three years ago MIT Media Lab researchers presented a gloveless gestural interaction system that incorporates optical sensors embedded directly behind an LCD display. Using the LCD display as a lens, the sensors can recognize and react to a human hand before the screen. The main obstacle at the time, according to the MIT News Office, is that LCD displays with built-in optical sensors weren't easy to find because they were an entirely new concept. The Media Lab had to produce mock-ups in order to test the technology.


With a remote controller representing that for the Nintendo Wii, Mezzanine targets the market for presentations in the workplace. Combining a series of large interconnected screens with Web and cloud storage access, Mezzanine projects information wirelessly and allows users to control and move the data on the screen with its remote control.

Flutter app
The Flutter app

A practical consumer option currently available on the Mac App store and for Windows, the Flutter app, developed by a startup of the same name, makes use of increasingly common laptop webcams to recognize the user's hand and put it to good use. Though the functionality is limited to playing or pausing music files, further development could make the Flutter app a big hit.

Wave Alarm app
Wave Alarm app for alarm clocks

An interesting if not entirely essential app, Wave Alarm users can shut off their alarm clock by simply waving their hand by the phone. The motion recognition can be adjusted so it sets the alarm clock to snooze, making it all the more appealing to late sleepers.

AutoDesk Magic Finger
AutoDesk's Magic Finger project

AutoDesk Research has developed a small device worn on the fingertip that makes the user look like E.T. while storing information found in the real world. Some examples in this video include capturing information from a data matrix button in a print magazine that opens an app on a connected tablet, which can then be controlled without the need to touch the screen.

Credit: YouTube.com
Touch-less control of an interactive tabletop

A paper submitted to this week's ITS 2012 conference on interactive tabletops and surfaces by University of Waterloo grad student Dmitry Pyryeskin details 3D gestural control of an interactive table screen. With technology that recognizes different gestures, the project enables users to control a tablet-like surface without having to touch the screen.