Wednesday, November 21, 2012

No vision at all

Anyone with an X-Box hooked up to a Kinect camera will appreciate the fact that gesture recognition has added all sorts of interactive possibilities to gaming that simply weren't possible before.

But a vision system isn't the only way of detecting the gestures of individuals to enable them to control computer systems, as one company proved this month when it launched an alternative gesture recognition technology that might challenge the role of vision in certain applications.

That company was none other than Microchip Technology (Chandler, AZ, USA), whose so-called GestIC system is based on the idea of equipping a device such as a tablet PC with a number of thin electrodes that create an electric field around the device when an electric current is passed through them.

Once a user's hand then moves into the area around the tablet, the electrical field distribution becomes distorted as the electrical field lines intercepted by the hand are shunted to ground through the human body. The distortion of the field is then detected by a number of receiver electrodes integrated onto the top layer of the device.

To support this concept, Microchip Technology has -- as you might have expected -- produced an integrated circuit named the MGC3130 that not only acts as a signal generator but also contains signal conditioning and analog to digital converters that convert the analog signals from the receivers into a digital format.

Once they are in that format, a 32-bit signal processor analyses the signals using an on-chip software suite that can track the x/y/z position of the hand as well as determine the gestures of a user. These are then relayed to an applications processor in the system that performs commands such as opening applications, pointing, clicking, zooming and scrolling.

While the folks at Microchip Technology believe that the GestIC system will enable the "next breakthrough in human-machine-interface design", and are touting the fact that it offers the lowest power consumption of any 3-D sensing technology -- the technology is still limited to a detection range of up to 15 cm.

So while it does offer an interesting alternative to a camera-based system, I don't think that the folks at Microsoft will be too worried that it will ever compete with their Kinect camera.

Samples of Microchip's MGC3130 -- which comes in a 5x5 mm 28-pin QFN package -- are available today. Volume production is expected in April 2013 at $2.26 each in high volumes. An evaluation kit is available today for $169. More information is available here.

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