A team of Northeastern University engineering students has built a PC interface that can manipulate applications using only hand gestures.
The "electric-field sensing device" does not require a person to wear sensors or any other gadgets in order to communicate with a computer. Instead, applications can be operated by moving a hand back and forth or up and down over several rows of copper plates.
The device, built by seniors Justin Schunick, Mark Hollenbeck, Luke Shaheen, Scott Gillette, and Glenn Black, reads hand movements by locking on to the static electricity everyone carries. The copper plates follow the movements and then pass the coordinates through circuitry that's attached to a PC through a USB port.
A video demonstration of the device shows one of the students waving his hand about a foot over the plates, which are covered with a black cloth, to manipulate a 3-D model on the computer screen. The model is within 3-D Studio Max, an Autodesk application now called 3ds Max.
Each copper plate senses the hand above it without any need for a device or marker on the hand. As a result, the students have created an "interactive space" above the device.
"It's an interactive environment that we have created," one of the students said in the video.
Besides model manipulation, the device is also used to draw lines on the computer screen, play music, and simulate the sound of record scratching used in hip-hop music.
The five students last month won first place in the 2009 Senior Capstone projects at the university's College of Engineering. Whether the low-cost device leads to any breakthroughs in computer interfaces remains to be seen.
However, building a more natural way to communicate with computers than a keyboard and mouse is a major focus of computer science. Much of the focus today is on the use of natural language to command computers.
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