Controlling This Smartwatch is All in the Wrist

Smartwatches are pretty great. In theory, you’ll never miss a notification or a phone call. Plus, they can do all kinds of bio-metric tracking since they’re strapped to one of your body’s pulse points. But there are downsides. One of the major ones is that you end up needing two hands to do things that are easily one-handed on a phone. Now, you could use the tip of your nose like I do in the winter when I have mittens on, but that’s not good for your eyes. It seems that the future of smartwatch input is not in available appendages, but in gesture detection.

Enter WristWhirl, the brain-child of Dartmouth and University of Manitoba students [Jun Gong], [Xing-Dong Yang], and [Pourang Irani]. They have built a prototype smartwatch that uses continuous wrist movements detected by IR proximity sensors to control popular off-the-shelf applications. Twelve pairs of dirt-cheap IR sensors connected to an Arduino Due detect any of eight simple gestures made by the wearer to do tasks like opening the calendar, controlling a music player, panning and zooming a map, and playing games like Tetris and Fruit Ninja. In order to save battery, a piezo senses pinch between the user’s thumb and forefinger and uses this input to decide when to start and stop gesture detection.

According to their paper (PDF warning), the gesture detection is 93.8% accurate. To get this data, the team had their test subjects perform each of the eight gestures under different conditions such as walking vs. standing and doing either with the wrist in watch-viewing position or hanging down at their side. Why not gesture your way past the break to watch a demo?

If you’re stuck on the idea of playing Tetris with gestures, there are other ways.

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Did Microsoft steal the Kinect?

In 2009, while Microsoft was busy designing and marketing what would become the Kinect, [Carlos Anzola], an inventor, tinkerer, and self-ascribed geek from Bogotá, Colombia, had been working for years on a nearly identical gesture interface for the PC. His creation, the Human interface Electronic Device, or HiE-D – pronounced ‘Heidi’ – was capable of gesture recognition years before Microsoft would release the Kinect.

After developing his gesture recognition device in 2007, Microsoft showed interest in [Carlos]’ device – going so far as to request a prototype. Microsoft suggested that he should apply for a patent on his technology. [Carlos] did just that, sending in patent applications to both the United States Patent and Trademark Office and the World Intellectual Property Organization a mere two days before the announcement of Project Natal and a full seven months before Microsoft applied for their Kinect patent.

Since the release of the Kinect, [Carlos] has been showing the HiE-D around Bogotá and has put a few videos of his technology up on Youtube, one of which can be seen below. You can also check out his Youtube channel for some great demos.

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