Electrostatic computer interface

[Justin] sent in his 1st place winning project from Northeastern’s Electrical Engineering Senior Design Capstone. It’s an interface that uses electrostatics to detect your hand position above it. As you can see in the video, it has decent resolution and can detect position on all 3 axes. When they uncover it, you can see the sensors arranged in a grid. They point out that each sensor isn’t just like a button, but rather detects a range of motion. They are using a pic 18×4550 to handle the sensors, which then communicates to the PC via USB. This could be pretty useful for musical performances as well as an alternative interface for people who can’t use a mouse.EO


  1. BRANKKO says:

    This is better then Intimate control for physical modeling synthesis.
    We are going in 3D :)

  2. SOOPERGOOMAN187 says:

    I guess the theory of electrostatics is no longer a theory anymore, it has been proven by these fellows. This would be great for video games.

  3. John says:

    Good work which undoubtedly took a lot of effort.

    But it is hardly a new concept: Google “electric field imaging”.

  4. root-dir says:

    looks like it would provide a better interface for interacting with holographic or stereoscopic interfaces, than the current attempts to use a camera to interpret movements. or maybe it could supplement that technology to provide a more reliable solution?

  5. dseaver says:

    I figured this would end up on here at some point!! My group placed third in the same competition. I hope they open up the design details on this. They’re demo was great, and they easily spent the most time in the lab.

  6. Travis says:

    I agree with John. This was done almost a decade ago by Josh Smith (MIT):

    http://web.media.mit.edu/~jrs/ (about 2/3 down page)

  7. kurf says:

    So he’s just sensing the near field on some 12 antennas. Very simple idea but a very developed interface.

  8. Dan says:

    I wonder if, given enough sensitivity, it could deconvolve the data and detect the shape of your hand. Only if your hand was close enough to the device of course.

  9. djrussell says:


    lol at one person to press button and one person to adjust the speaker volume. :)

  10. Todd S. says:

    right on djrussell – “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” ;-)

  11. Kain says:

    beautiful! I hope this is implemented in chuck.

  12. Monkey says:

    Haha nice use of FL Studio :) Very interesting! I see you made a MIDI controller and did that – the music end of it wouldn’t be hard at all.

    Very creative.

  13. plrang says:

    Yeah, thats a thing and not wire twiddling or other material oldfashioned stuff.

  14. TheFish says:

    Now all you need is a hologram projector!

  15. blizzarddemon says:

    can anyone say iron man setup?

    I can also see using this in photoshop for brush effects.

  16. peter says:

    Reminds me of the Asimov novels featuring Elijah Baley and the robot Daneel Olivaw. There are several descriptions of people issuing orders to robots using hand positions, and I believe electrostatics was mentioned as the sensor technology.

  17. Paul says:


  18. Mike says:

    That guy at the end really liked that button, it is impressive hid

  19. KennyG says:

    That would be a PIC18F4550, not 18x.

  20. Wwhat says:

    Seems pretty basic stuff a teacher would use as a standard demonstration to me, but hey I also think it’s incredible that (army-)choppers still fly into electrical wires while there are a dozen very low tech cheap ways to detect if you are near a high power line, starting with a fluorescent tube connected to nothing.
    Point being that lots of basic stuff that millions of people learn and know still isn’t used in (often obvious) applications.
    Nevertheless I’m a bit underwhelmed, and I bet you can find patents on this particular thing dating back to before 1920, although obviously not connecting to a computer :)

  21. Robo Hack says:


  22. bearle01 says:

    It’s been done but it’s still killer to watch. How does its handle multi-touch hmmmm?

  23. 300ohm says:

    I believe this to be a somewhat plagerization of my sons work and his PHD mentor at U of Del.
    http://www.fingerworks.com/ This was later sold to Apple computer.

    I think the faculty at Northeastern’s Electrical Engineering dept should look into this thoughly. I am disappointed they didnt do enough research into the history.

    The simple bowtie antenna was invented in 1898 and patented. It was since reinvented at least three times since then and re-patented. This kind of nonsense must stop !

  24. microtune says:

    Looks fun but not uniek.
    Not clame someting new if others did it before you where born.


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