3D gesture breakthrough for tablets and smartphones
US-based semiconductor developer Microchip claims its new GestIC MGC3130 chip will prove revolutionary for mobile devices.
Using an electrical field to allow for 3D gesture control, Eric Lawson of Microchip says that while inserting the 5cm x 5cm chip into a smartphone may prove to be a “difficult design job”, use within tablet devices will be “far more straightforward”.
The director of the firm’s human-machine interface division, Fanie Duvenhage, said at its launch that GestIC technology is likely to appear within tablets or e-readers by Christmas 2013.
GestIC uses thin sensing electrodes to enable “invisible integration” behind a device’s design, as marketing manager Lawson puts it, while Duvenhage has invited comparisons with the gesture technology seen in the 2002 movie Minority Report, joking that GestIC is “pretty much in line” with what viewers saw in the movie “except without the ugly gloves” worn by Tom Cruise’s character, John Anderton.
Dr Alistair Sutherland of DCU’s School of Computing, who has previously worked in the area of marrying gesture control with mobile devices, says Microchip’s innovation is a change of pace from previous 3D gesture efforts where Microsoft Kinect-esque camera sensors captured and responded to gestures.
While GestIC is limited to a six-inch range, Sutherland notes that one of the previous complaints about camera-based gesture control is that it has a “blind spot” when users are within a few inches of the sensor. Lawson foresees GestIC being used “in tandem” with camera devices in the near future as well.
An estimated power consumption as low as 150 microwatts in its active sensing state, will allow GestIC to have always-on 3D gesture recognition, and Sutherland is impressed by this element of the product, with the chip said to consume 90 per cent less power than camera-based 3D sensing technology.
“Previously it’s been difficult to achieve gesture control with mobile devices because the environment in which they’re being used is changed rapidly – the phone itself changes its position, the distance from the camera changes and the lighting as well. Then there’s lots of shaking that you have to deal with,” says Sutherland.
“All of those are problems that have to be solved. That’s obviously why are looking at alternatives to the camera sensors.”
Intended to fit a broad range of products – Microchip’s customer base numbers 70,000 companies and individuals – GestIC is based on technology acquired through the company’s purchase this year of Germany-based Ident Technology.
Recognised gestures will include possibilities such as “wake-up on approach” says Lawson as well as position tracking, flick gestures, circle gestures and symbol gestures, all of which can be applied for turning something on or off, opening an application, as well as pointing, clicking, zooming and scrolling.
Tablets, keyboards and mice and most types of “peripheral interface devices” were pinpointed by Lawson as immediate development areas.
“Think about Windows 8,” he says. “It’s really designed to be used with a touchscreen, but in a desktop PC scenario what does that mean for the user today? They could buy a new monitor with a touchscreen, but can you imagine leaning forward to touch your screen all day long? Ergonomically speaking that would be a nightmare as opposed to gesture control within the keyboard.”