A 3D gesture multi-touch display is the ultimate goal of a partnership forged between Ident Technology and AU Optronics (AUO). The companies plan to integrate Ident’s GestIC 3D gesture control chip with AUO’s 2D multi-touch and 3D LCD modules, creating an LCD module with free-space gesture-control functionality. Ident’s GestIC chip is already used in devices like mice and remote controls to detect and track hand, finger, or body movement to control the product without needing to touch a screen or a keyboard.
Klaus Zeyn, Ident’s VP of sales and marketing, explains that the first 3D gesture-controlled displays will target the tablet PC sector. “2D multi-touch has been changing the way we interact with our devices, but at the same time 2D touch displays have taken the long established and prominent mouse-over feature away from us, i.e., we need to touch the icon to know what’s behind it,” he says. “With GestIC, developers will be able to bring this functionality back to the user.”
The GestIC chip measures relative 3D position and 3D movement detection, direction, and velocity, enabling it track a hand or finger in front of a display. The technology is based on near-field electrical sensing; that is, it looks for conductive objects (such as a hand) within about 20cm of the display. The chip can translate movements into pre-defined gesture commands and/or positional data.
“As such, the technology is looking for the electrical “centre of gravity,” \\[which is usually\\] the centre of the hand within the respective field, in the tablet case over the display area. As a result, it cannot distinguish between movement of an arm or finger,” explains Zeyn.
At the most basic level of proximity detection, Ident’s technology can detect when a user is about to pick up the tablet and turn it on, as well as turn it off when not in use to save power. At the more complex end of the spectrum, GestIC allows dynamic detection of a users’ hand position in the x/y/z domain over the entire display area. This allows for content navigation, zoom of content, and item selection, all in free space.
Although it’s also capable of 2D touch detection, Zeyn says that Ident’s technology will most likely be used alongside a traditional 2D multi-touch controller.
“While GestIC will work in harmony with traditional touch and multi-touch, many former touch-based input commands will be taken over by free-space 3D input, such as the fast unidirectional flick commands to change pictures, for media control, horizontal or vertical scroll movement for volume control, scrolling, and similar,” adds Zeyn.
According to Zeyn, optical camera-based systems like the Microsoft Kinect aren’t suited to tablet applications. That’s because the range of camera-based gesture-control systems is intentionally much bigger, and the lenses have a limited viewing angle. Moreover, the large amount of image processing is power-hungry, which would stretch the battery life of the device. While a quick fix would be to turn on the optical-sensing solution only when used, this would limit the freedom of general usage.
GestIC, on the other hand, can pre-process gestures and compare them to its on-chip gesture library. Zeyn says that makes it respond 10 times faster while using only a fraction of the power.
In the short term, users may appreciate the idea of preventing finger marks on their new tablets. However, the most exciting applications are a bit further away. The idea of a tablet with a 3D LCD being controlled by a wave of the hand in 3D space is certainly compelling, and the technology will no doubt be adopted readily by the gaming community. Along those lines, Ident is also working on multi-hand/multi-gesture recognition for release in the 2012 timeframe.