Scientists at the U.K.’s Lancaster University have pioneered revolutionary new technology destined to make a household item you use every day vanish from your life. For those of us raised cross-legged on the carpet, bathed in cathode ray radiation in order to stay within arm’s reach of the volume and channel knobs, the television remote control was a miracle. It is about to become extinct.
No longer will you have to put down your drink. Just wave whatever you have in your hand in a circle. According to Christopher Clarke, “You could even change the channel with your pet cat.” The inventor explains, “spontaneous spatial coupling is a new approach to gesture control that works by matching movement instead of asking the computer to recognize a specific object.” This allows “acquiring pointers on the fly.”
Providing limitless flexibility, the system has no need to recognize a specific part of the body like a hand. It is designed to function when you might be holding something you don’t wish to put down. Sitting, standing, or slouching on the sofa doesn’t matter one bit to “Matchpoint.” “Our method allows for a much more user-friendly experience where you can change channels without having to put down your drink, or change your position, whether that is relaxing on the sofa or standing in the kitchen following a recipe.”
The days of digging in the cushions for the missing remote are over. No need to change batteries. Even sticky buttons are a thing of the past. Promising to solve the frustrations of previous efforts like the “Wii” game system, advances in gesture control technology are turning the way we interact with screen devices upside down.
Adjust the volume, change the channel or open an on-screen menu with a wave of your hand and a swipe in the air. The new strategy of controlling devices through gestures means that “everyday objects in the house can now easily become remote controls so there are no more frantic searches when your favorite program is about to start and now everyone in the room has the remote.”
Clarke, who is a Ph.D. student and leads the project’s development team at Lancaster’s School of Computing and Communications will be demonstrating the system at this years UIST (User Interface Software and Technology) conference in Quebec City, Canada. Matchpoint uses an ordinary web-cam to correlate objects and body parts with small rotating dots orbiting icons in a “widget” that lives in the corner of the screen.
Each moving “target” corresponds to functions such as channel or volume controls. Using either their hand, head or random object, the system recognizes the circular motion and matches it up with the desired function to activate. Once the item is linked to the control, it can be used to move a slider which appears on-screen. Once the slider goes away from the screen, the object is decoupled. You can sip your coffee and not change the channel.
Because it does not require the user to wear any rings, bracelets or similar devices, and is not trained to recognize a particular part of the body like a hand, the Matchpoint system does not need any calibration or have any programming to allow it to recognize an object. Instead, it recognizes the circular pattern of motion.
The technology is not limited to televisions either. Matchpoint also works with desktops and tablets. The researchers point out it will come in handy to be able to wave your spatula to pause a cooking video on YouTube. Mechanics can control a tutorial with the twist of a wrench.
Another place the technology will come in handy is for presentations and collaboration at the office. By creating multiple pointers, simultaneous users can interact with white-boards, creating drawings and highlighting pictures. With two hands, zoom and rotate controls add even more features.
As an extra added bonus, the system is capable of assigning links to objects with persistent coupling. For example, you could assign a paperweight on your desk to the music player volume on your computer. It can sit there motionless for a long time then if you want to lower the volume, slide the paperweight.
The technology will have broader applications in the future. The research team is already looking at ways to allow the use as an accessibility tool for those challenged by traditional keyboard and mouse controls.