Did you rush out and buy a Kinect system from Microsoft when it became available? Have you enjoyed using your body as the controller? Do you wonder what Microsoft's next gaming advance will be? Meet Digit, a prototype that could be used for a lot more than just entertainment.
I admit, I was pretty skeptical about Kinect myself until I actually played a few games on the system at a nearby science museum. I couldn't stop smiling – or sweating; I felt like I got a real workout. Even so, I noticed one big issue: the Kinect doesn't seem to handle fine motor movements very well. It might have been my lack of experience – but if it wasn't, is Microsoft addressing this problem?
It looks as if they are. According to Dvice, the software giant created a prototype for something they're calling Digits. Essentially, it's a bracelet attached to an infrared camera and an infrared illuminator, with both of the latter items pointed straight at your fingers. These devices track and detect your movements. “It's sort of like how a Kinect sensor works, except it's focused entirely on your hand, and you're wearing it,” Dvice notes.
Because the system is wireless, users aren't tethered to any particular piece of hardware. It's totally mobile. You could use it with your phone to dial out on a virtual, invisible number pad; answer calls while it's still in your pocket; adjust the volume on your music player; change channels on your TV; enhance your interactions with your tablet; play video games using your hand as the controller (fire a gun by forming your hand into a gun shape, for instance); and more.
Right now, since it's a working prototype, the device is rather bulky. No one would want to wear it for very long; the wristband alone is two inches wide and at least a quarter of an inch thick, and the infrared detector is large enough to get in the way of typing or mousing activities. But if Microsoft can get this down to the size of a wristwatch, as it hopes to do, it's easy to see lots of different applications for it. Wear one on each wrist for virtual typing and mousing. Or use its interpretation ability paired with a tablet to allow deaf users of sign language to communicate with those who don't understand that language.
The device still needs significant development and engineering work before it can reach the market. Even once Microsoft gets a version that is no longer bulky and cumbersome, though, Digits faces certain hurdles. The BBC quoted Dr. Richard Picking, reader in human-computer interaction at Glyndwr University, as having certain misgivings. “This portable, mobile solution is an interesting development with potential for novel applications...However, similar innovations, such as data-glove technologies have failed to find mainstream application domains outside the computer games industry...It's not clear how reliable the technology is: how accurately does the camera need to be calibrated? What happens if it gets knocked about, or inadvertently moved? How comfortable is it? Also, this device doesn't support tactile feedback, as is the case for some data-gloves.”
Still, Digits seems like it would be an interesting interface, with the potential to do a lot more than your standard gaming controller. Would you use it? And what would you use it for? Feel free to respond in the comments.
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