Microsoft developing Kinect-like controller that uses sound waves

SoundWave utilizes the existing speakers and microphone built into a PC or notebook to detect gestures.
Written by Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, Senior Contributing Editor

If you think that Microsoft's Kinect motion controller for the Xbox 360 is amazing, then you're going to love this.

Microsoft Research has developed a new gesture-based motion controller that makes use of the Doppler effect to detect in-air gestures done around the device. The project is called SoundWave and what's particularly interesting about it is that it doesn't need any additional hardware in order to work.

Instead of a Kinect-like sensor bar, SoundWave utilizes the existing speakers and microphone built into a PC or notebook to detect gestures. The speakers emit inaudible tones in the 18 - 22 KHz range. SoundWave then uses the microphone on the same system to pick up these tones as they are bounced back by moving objects, such as a hand. These tones are passed through a detection algorithm and any frequency shifts detected are processed to figure out what the gesture made in front of the system was.

These gestures are then translated into specific actions that are carried out on the PC.

In the above video, Microsoft demonstrates a number of ways that this technology can be used. For example, we see single handed gestures being used to scroll through documents and images, and two handed gestures being used to play Tetris. We also get a demonstration of the SoundWave system locking a PC when it detects the user walking away from it.

SoundWave is not affected by background noises, and can even work while music or other audio is being played on the PC.

While this technology is a long way off from being a commercial product, it's actually quite interesting and timely because it could allow Microsoft to bring gesture controls -- something that's particularly important to the Windows 8 operating system -- to systems that don't have touch screen.

This is the lowest-cost solution I've yet to see for gesture control. Not only that, it's backward-compatible with any system that features speakers and a microphone.


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