Electronic Design

Pointing Makes A Point In Consumer And Industrial Products

Apparently, the world isn’t satisfied with ordinary remote controls, game controllers, and even Nintendo’s Wii Remote. I say this because I saw pointing devices and controllers that break new ground at the 2009 International CES in Las Vegas last month. The most intriguing pointing device, I thought, was from a company called GestureTek (). CTO and cofounder Francis MacDougall demonstrated advanced gesture recognition using 3D cameras. These cameras can detect the depth and distance of every part of your body. This means that you can stand in front of a display and control the game simply by using different kinds of hand gestures.

Want to play a game like Formula One Championship? With GestureTek’s technology, you no longer need to know the ins and outs of the game controller, nor would you have to invest in a physical steering wheel for the game. You would simply stand or sit, place your hands in the driving position, pull them apart to accelerate, and off you go (see the figure).

The camera feeds your gestures into the computer, and the software responds quickly enough to make you feel that you’re controlling whatever is on the screen. MacDougall also showed how these techniques could be used to point and click on the screen just the way you would with a mouse or remote control.

To view the video demo, check out our CES page at electronicdesign.com/subject/ces2009. For more examples of GestureTek technologies in action, visit www.gesturetek.com.

Another unique device has been developed by a company called Sixense. My first encounter with this company was at an editors dinner hosted by Analog Devices to show off products using ADI’s Blackfin and Sharc processors. At that event, Sixense showed how its controller could be used for video games.

Although it seemed to work like the controller used with the Wii gaming system, there is a subtle difference. The Sixense device works via a magnetic field rather than with accelerometers. This enables it to deliver absolute 3D position and orientation information (see “Sensor Provides Real 3D Positioning”).

The controller works in conjunction with a standalone basestation that generates the magnetic field. I tried one of the baseball game demos, but didn’t have much luck hitting home runs with the controller “bat.” Some things never change, I guess.

At CES, Sixense CTO and chief architect Jeff Bellinghausen demonstrated how this controller could be used to control a 3D CAD program. I thought this demo was stunning. Using two controllers, Jeff picked up objects, rotated them, placed them in different positions, and on and on.

It was easy to see how this technology could be used in industrial, medical, or other settings to control complex 3D objects. For a look at the Sixense controllers in action, visit the CES 2009 page on the Electronic Design Web site. The video is part of the ADI Sharc group on the page.

Two years ago at CES, we met with a company called Hillcrest Labs. At that time, company founder, chairman, and CEO Daniel Simpkins showed us the Freespace motion control technology for the first time, combined with a remote control called the Loop. (To view a demo of that device, search for “‘Remote’ from CES 2007” at engineeringtv.com.)

Since that time, one of the companies that Hillcrest Labs has licensed its HoME and Freespace technologies to is Kodak for the Kodak Theatre HD Player. The controller isn’t the Loop, though. Instead, it’s a slick remote that fits neatly in your hand.

HoME is an application creation platform that combines a graphical, zoomable interface for television with Freespace technology. We interviewed Simpkins about his company, which you can view on the CES page, but unfortunately were unable to record a video of the Kodak player in action. The demo got waylaid due to a local blackout in the booth.

Finger-pointing has taken on new meaning since the debut of the Apple iPhone, which popularized multitouch technology, such as the pinch. But multitouch for the iPhone essentially means two fingers, not more. However, you can expect these small displays to accept more finger points in the future.

At CES, Epson display marketing manager Shinchiro Hori demonstrated a display that could process a handful of fingers at a time. How this functionality will be used on a 3.5-in. display is up to the software guys—I’m sure they will think of something. For a peek at the new Epson display, follow the same routine and check out the CES page on the Electronic Design Web site.

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