30 April 2014

Microsoft Research imbues keyboard with Kinect-like gesture controls

Microsoft kinect keyboard

Ever since Nintendo’s Wii, gesture and motion control have, more or less, gotten a bad rap. Microsoft’s Kinect didn’t help the matter, as users soon realized that it requires much less effort to press a button on a controller than it does to wildly wave your arm in the air. Microsoft Research has seemingly learned from its past, and has developed a device that aims to make gesture control require much less effort.

At least in terms of modern-day gesture and motion control, it turns out that more traditional control methods touch, a mouse, a directional pad are the most efficient ways to interface with the current iterations of our technology. The bad rap comes from the probability that, at some point down the road, motion and gesture (and likely voice and eye-tracking) control will be the norm, and the most efficient way to interact with our gadgets. Waving your arm anywhere in your house to turn on the lights is more efficient than walking over to and flipping on a switch.

The current motion and gesture control exploits, though, have thus far been inefficient and tedious something we all learned the hard way when Microsoft released the original Kinect. It turns out pressing down on a D-pad to navigate Netflix is a much better way to start watching Archer than hoisting your arm in the air until it gets tired. However, if you didn’t have to hoist your arm, and could instead make a minimal movement while your hand is already in a resting position, then gesture control would become much more viable. Microsoft Research has devised a keyboard that takes cues from the Kinect in order to provide that effortless gesture control experience.

The keyboard is simple enough. Little low-resolution infrared proximity sensors have been placed in between the keys. Though the sensors are low-res, they can still detect your run-of-the-mill gestures, such as pinching to zoom, swiping, hovering with your hand, and tapping the air with your finger.

Gesture control for your keyboard has been attempted before. Not too long ago, the tech world briefly flipped out about and subsequently became very disappointed with the Leap Motion. The Leap Motion is a little rectangular device that sits near your keyboard or monitor, and grants PCs the power of essentially the Kinect. Unfortunately, the Leap didn’t work very well, but not because making gestures above your keyboard is inconvenient the device just didn’t work very well. It may be weird to say after all this time, but the Leap Motion was a good idea, replacing the trackpad with the air above your keyboard. Microsoft building what is basically an in-keyboard Leap could potentially be the next step toward competent gesture control.

In fact, this type of device could alleviate a common problem when using Windows 8. The operating system was glaringly and infamously made for mobile, working best (and enjoyably) on tablets. However, using an interface made for touch-swiping on a desktop remains a chore. Being able to manipulate a swipe-heavy interface while still being able to rest your hand on a desk or keyboard should be a much more comfortable endeavor. (Read: Microsoft secret special Project self driving car.)

Unfortunately, there is no word yet at this time whether or not Microsoft will release this kind of keyboard to consumers. All we can do is look forward to the day when gesture control on a PC isn’t too much of a chore, and take comfort knowing that big-name companies are working on it.

Courtesy Extremetech


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