Wave hello to the future of the UI with Microsoft's wrist-mounted Digits system

Microsoft researchers have unveiled a user interface system called Digits, which captures users' hand gestures via a wrist-mounted system and translates them into commands.
Written by Jo Best, Contributor

From Kinect to Windows 8, Microsoft has fingered gesture recognition as the future of the user interface.

Now Microsoft researchers are aiming to improve the accuracy and mobility of gesture-controlled interfaces with a new project called Digits.

Real hand gestures and their Digits representations. Credit: Microsoft

The prototype system, unveiled on Tuesday, involves a sensor worn on the user's wrist, which captures the position of their hand in 3D and translates it into software commands.

The system allows discrete or continuous gestures to be used to navigate software — for example, a pinching gesture is translated to zooming in on a document. The human hand controlling Digits can also be shown as onscreen representation where needed.

The researchers were looking to achieve a system that recognised natural 3D gestures made by users' hands with a high level of accuracy, but wouldn't necessitate wearing 'data gloves', according to Microsoft Research.

By making the system wrist mounted, there's no need for a line-of-sight connection with the hardware that it's controlling.

"The Digits sensor doesn't rely on external infrastructure, which means users are not bound to a fixed space. They can interact while moving from room to room or running down the street," David Kim, a Microsoft Research PhD Fellow from Newcastle University's Culture Lab, said.

The current Digits set-up uses an infra-red (IR) camera, an IR laser line generator, an IR diffuse illuminator, and an inertial measurement unit to track hand movements, including the wrist orientation and the angle of each finger joint.

The researchers reckon the system could one day be put to work as a user interface for mobile and tablet devices, or combined with Kinect's full-body tracking tech as a way of interacting with a games console.

While Digits's wrist-worn kit is bulky because of its off-the-shelf components, the researchers are hoping to get it down to the size of an average wristwatch.

A technical paper on digits — created by Newcastle University's Kim; Otmar Hilliges, Shahram Izadi, Alex Butler, and Jiawen Chen of Microsoft Research's Cambridge lab; Iason Oikonomidis of Greece's Foundation for Research & Technology; and Patrick Olivier of Newcastle University’s Culture Lab — will be presented at the UIST 2012 conference this week.

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