What humans have long understood can increasingly also be interpreted by computers: they can be operated by gestures. Photo: Jakub Hlavaty, Flickr.com, cc-by-sa license
Aloud A wave in front of the picture frame, and the beach photo is replaced by an Alpine backdrop. An index finger approaching the picture frame and the menu selection opens. The German family-owned company Jobo wants to launch this gesture-controlled digital picture frame on the market before Christmas. The product was already presented at the International Consumer Electronics Fair in September. The Bavarian Ident Technology based in Wessling has developed the unusual controller for the device. As an example she took intuitive gestures, such as turning a picture book as a sign for a new motif. Young and old should know the body language, as well as older consumers should be lured as customers. The intelligent frame detects slow as well as angular or hasty movements.

For marketing director Werner Witte of Ident Technology, the gestures are clearly superior to the good old control knob: "You do not have to take the picture off. You do not dirty it with unsightly fingerprints and it can not fall off during the entire action. "The gesture-based control also needs very little energy. Each AA battery, which is stored unused, loses electrical energy faster than the display consumes, Witte illustrates.

In front of the picture frame, a weak electric field with a range of about ten centimeters is built up, which always changes when the human body enters the field and moves in it. Interference fields, such as those caused by the radiation of mobile phones, do not affect the technology, assures Ident Technology.

The Bavarian IT specialist believes in a broad application of the gestural dialogue between man and machine. Plans are already in the drawers for other devices that parry for hand signals. A computer mouse without a scroll wheel, for example: The user simply raises a finger over the mouse, if he wants to leaf through a pdf document. Even futuristic scenarios, as they are known from science fiction films would, according to Witte technically no problem: "With simple gestures, even complex machines can be controlled, as Tom Cruise makes in the film 'Minority Report'." Display

Many things are possible. But experts are divided as to whether gesturing prevails over devices. Some prototypes disappeared again from the exhibition areas of the fairs. For example, the Fraunhofer Institute for Intelligent Analysis and Information Systems in Sankt Augustin invented a monitor that displays a new image at the tip of a finger. This pointscreen also responds to the change in the electric field through the human body. The screen does not need to be touched. Smeared greasy fingerprint monitors in museums and ATMs may be a thing of the past.

But "a product status has never been achieved, " says Manfred Bogen, a specialist in virtual worlds from the Fraunhofer Institute. "We talked to many industrial partners and attended trade fairs. But nothing has ever happened. "
The non-contact control could not keep up with the touch screen technology. The latter is more precise and more concrete to the user, speculates on the reasons and concludes: "Either the market was not yet ripe or the technology is not yet suitable."

Ipke Wachsmuth, an expert in artificial intelligence at the University of Bielefeld, does not believe in a triumphal procession of gesture-based communication with any household appliance: "Something as easy to use as a button will not disappear from our everyday lives." He pulls a parallel to talking washing machines that have been traded for years as a breakthrough innovation, but have never conquered households.

In fact, computer scientists have been dealing with the control of devices through gestures for several years. In 2002, Munich researchers tested how a car radio can be operated hands-free without having to look away from the road. But still sordid buttons sit in the fitting. Why should the breakthrough come just now?

"The topic is back. Especially with new devices, "says Wachsmuth. "Object-oriented gestures to control images - this is currently going very well." On smartphones and iPhones, the view widens as the thumb and forefinger on the display are pulled apart. "It works well and is completely intuitive, " says Wachsmuth. With the Wii game console, you ride a virtual bike by moving two control modules in your hands in the air. The arm movements determine the game. Especially with new devices there is quite a chance that new forms of communication prevail.

ddp / science.de Susanne Donner

© science.de

Recommended Editor'S Choice