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Microsoft Researcher Demoes “Skinput” Technology

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PITTSBURGH, USA – Carnegie Melon University graduate student Chris Harrison, working in collaboration with Microsoft researchers Dan Morris and Desny Tan, recently demoed the revolutionary input technology Skinput.

The technology, which uses the human skin as the tracking surface or the input device, has the potential to change the way humans interact with electronic gadgets.

Based on a simple concept of reading the acoustic signals resulting from a finger tap on a human body, the research team has demonstrated the incorporation of this unique input method to control several mobile devices including a mobile phone and a portable music player. Acoustic profiles of different parts of the body vary significantly and the research team has been able to implement control systems with accuracies as high as 96.8%  for finger flick controls among other methods.

At the heart of the technology is a wearable, acoustic arm band which can detect the acoustic signals and convert them to electronic signals enabling users to perform simple tasks as browsing through a mobile phone menu, making calls, controlling portable music players, etc.. Coupled with a portable pico-projector, the research team has even demonstrated gameplay of the popular video game Tetris, relying on a user’s palm as the projecting and control surface.

While the acoustic approach of Skinput is innovative a similar non-invasive skin-based control technology was demoed last year by Pattie Maes and Pranav Mistry of Massachusetts Institute of Technology Design Lab, called the Sixth Sense Technology. The Sixth Sense Technology, with its capability for usage over any surface, has a distinctive edge over Skinput Technology. While both of the technologies are innovative in their own rights, which technology will gain large-scale implementation in the long run remains to be seen.

Skinput technology works by “listening” for the sounds made by finger tapping on a particular part of the human body. Since skin, joint and bone density are highly variable on any normal human being, those taps are associated with different acoustic profiles – tapping close to your wrist would result in a slightly different “sound” than tapping closer to the elbow. The demo you see in the video below projects a control interface onto a forearm, giving the user a visual guide as to where to tap.

So far, Microsoft and researcher Chris Harrison have been able to use their flesh-control technology to play a game of Tetris and to control an iPod. In the future, though, Skinput might completely change the way you think about double-clicking your lady’s mouse. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

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By , Chief International Correspondent on Mar 10th, 2010 GMT +2

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