If 2012 will be remembered for anything, aside from the poisonous partisan politics, or the hit or miss of Mayan apocalyptic prognostications, it will be the legitimate development of touch-free control of computers, tablets and smart phones. Earlier this year the creators of Leap Motion announced that their device would allow touch-free control of computer user interfaces. Now, researchers from the University of Alberta, Toronto, and Autodesk Research have upped the ante. At the ACM Symposium that took place from Oct. 7-12 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the researchers debuted the Magic Finger.
As the Autodesk Research website notes, “we instrument the user’s finger itself, rather than the surface it is touching.” Splendid.
Magic Finger senses touch through an optical mouse sensor, enabling any surface to act as a touch screen. Magic Finger also senses texture through a micro RGB camera, allowing contextual actions to be carried out based on the particular surface being touched. A technical evaluation shows that Magic Finger can accurately sense 32 textures with an accuracy of 98.9%.
Researchers Xing-Dong Yang, Tovi Grossman, Daniel Wigdor & George Fitzmaurice detailed the Magic Finger technology in their paper “Magic Finger: Always-Available Input through Finger Instrumentation.”
By instrumenting the finger, “users of Magic Finger can have virtually unlimited touch interactions with any surface, without the need for torsoworn or body-mounted cameras, or suffer problems of occluded sensors,” reads the group’s paper. The group acknowdge that research into finger augmentation grew out of research in virtual reality technologies, particularly ones involving data gloves that track the user’s hand position in space.
The current form factor looks primitive at the moment, but Autodesk suggests several alternatives, some of which are startling.
“There are a number of ways which the device could be affixed to the finger. It could be embedded on a ring or thimble like structure worn on the tip of the finger (Figure 2a),” reads the paper. “This would allow users to remove the device when desired, or twist it to deactivate sensing. Alternatively, if small enough, the device could potentially be embedded under the finger nail (Figure 2b), on the surface of the fingertip skin, or implanted under the skin with exposed components for sensing (Figure 2c) .”
Implanted under the skin? Neuromancer here we come!
As interesting as that prospect might be, it conjures images of cyberpunk dystopias. Temporarily embedded Magic Fingers, such as those on finger nails or on the surface of the fingertip’s skin, would be much preferred. Oh, and it would probably be preferred by any corporation that uses this sort of technology: allowing them to sell it to you over and over and over again. The capitalist dream.
No word yet on when this technology will make it to the market. Watch the video below to see Magic Finger in action.