In recent years, we've started to use our cellphones not only for placing calls or exchanging messages. Now, we take pictures, read our e-mails, listen to music or watch TV. But, according to New Scientist, UK researchers are going further with a prototype software that turns your cellphone into a 3-D mouse. The phone is connected to your computer via Bluetooth. And you control the image on the screen by rotating or moving your phone. As says one of the researchers, "it feels like a much more natural way to interact and exchange data." The technology might first be used in shopping malls to buy movie tickets or to interact with advertising displays. But read more...
You can see above how Nick Pears, a lecturer in computer science at York University, is using his cellphone to control the images on the screen attached to his desktop (Credit: Nick Pears). This image was extracted from one short video available on Pears's research pages about visual human-computer interaction.
Pears is not the only developer of this prototype software. He worked with two researchers from Newcastle University, Patrick Olivier, an associate professor, and Dan Jackson, a senior research associate.
Here is how you can control your desktop screen according to New Scientist. "To control a screen, a user simply aims their cellphone's camera at it. The handset then connects, via Bluetooth, to the computer that operates that screen. Once a connection is established, the computer knows exactly where the phone is pointing because it places a reference target on top of the normal video feed and compares this to the phone's picture."
After establishing the connection, you need to control what appears in front of you. Here is how. "The computer translates the phone's movement and rotation in three dimensions into the actions of an onscreen cursor. It possible to use the phone like a 3D mouse, interacting with objects by pressing the phone's buttons or rotating the phone. In testing, volunteers were asked to resize an image on a screen. They selected the picture using a button and manipulated it by moving or rotating the phone. Moving the phone closer to the screen enlarged the photos, and drawing it away made them smaller."
In "Researchers Use Camera Phone as a Mouse," IDG News Service gives more details about possible usages of this technology. "One of the original goals was to interact with larger public displays to, for example, buy movie and train tickets and interact with advertising displays, although the applications of this technology are limitless, the researchers said. For example, users will be able to scroll through large display screens in a real-estate agency, even though there could be glass window in between, Pears said."
Still, it doesn't seem that you can use your standard cellphone as a 3-D computer mouse before a while. "While the technology holds promise, it is still under development and multiple issues are being addressed, Pears said. 'The image capture and image processing rate on the cell phone is quite slow, and so you can not move the cell phone as quickly as you would like to. This is what we would like to address in our next prototype,' Pears said."
So far, the prototype software only runs on Symbian and Windows Mobile OSes for PDAs and camera phones. I guess it should not be too difficult to port it to other platforms. But one question remains: is there a market -- even if "the applications of this technology are limitless"?
Sources: Tom Simonite, New Scientist, January 15, 2008; Agam Shah, IDG News Service, January 17, 2008; and various websites
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