Microsoft 'Digits' keeps motion control in hand

Microsoft 'Digits' keeps motion control in hand
Seth Tipps

By Seth Tipps

October 9th 2012 at 9:09PM

Bracelet pushes boundaries of motion control with finger tracking and real-time 3D rendering

Microsoft has revealed its next wave of motion control technology with Digits: a bracelet device that takes gesture input from a human hand and renders it in real time 3D.

Microsoft has already gained a strong foothold in motion control technology with the Kinect, and with the Digits bracelet it adds fine motor control -where the kinect has serious trouble- to its arsenal.

Developers working with the device will have a new frontier of interface options available to them like gesture-based controls in games, sign-based typing, and even turning the pages on an e-reader as if they were three dimensional objects.

To enhance the user's immersion and sense of control, the device also renders the hand in real-time 3D.

Digits can even keep track of all this while the user is moving around- an obstacle many rival systems have failed to overcome.

What makes this particularly impressive is that Digits accomplishes all this without the use of gloves, which have almost always been a staple feature of virtual reality devices registering fine motor control.

“The Digits sensor doesn’t rely on external infrastructure, which means users are not bound to a fixed space," said  David Kim, a Microsoft Research Ph.D. Fellow from Newcastle University's Culture Lab.

"They can interact while moving from room to room or running down the street. This finally takes 3-D interaction outside the living room.”

Kim co-authored the paper presenting digits to the public alongside Otmar Hilliges, Shahram Izadi, Alex Butler, and Jiawen Chen of Microsoft Research’s U.K.-based Cambridge lab; Iason Oikonomidis of Greece’s Foundation for Research & Technology; and Patrick Olivier of Newcastle University’s Culture Lab.

While the tech was designed with tablets and smartphones in mind, a post from Microsoft points out that as Kinect does not currently support finger-tracking, Digits could be used in conjunction with its older cousin.

Digits does have downsides: some gestures like crossed fingers cannot currently be tracked, and abandoning gloves means the loss of tactile feedback.

Microsoft is not the only company to be experimenting with new input devices.

Valve has publicly announced it views touch interface as less permanent than the mouse and keyboard, and is doing its best to engineer a generation of wearable computers and input devices.

Google is also sporting an interest in new input and output devices, and has already revealed a pair of augmented reality glasses.

With so many key players in the ring, Microsoft may have a tough fight ahead for the golden glove of motion control.