how a wave of your coffee cup or spoon could switch TV channels

person using the new system

There’s no need to pass the remote, a cup will do. Everyday objects could soon be used to control your television thanks to a technique that uses a webcam to recognise movements.

The system, called Matchpoint, allows you to select different objects, or body parts, to control aspects of the television. To set it up, the TV screen first displays icons representing functions, such as volume or changing channels. Once one has been selected, a chosen object is used to draw a circle in the air when prompted, transforming it into a remote control. A cup, for example, could then be used to adjust the volume by moving it laterally to coincide with a slider control onscreen. It retains its role as long as the camera can see it moving.

Similar systems typically identify objects or people. However, a change of position can affect recognition and cause them to fail. In one of its moddes, Matchpoint simply looks for movement, different people can operate the controls and the object doesn’t even need to be in full view.

 False activation can be an issue with gesture control, if a person accidentally makes the commanding signal. Christopher Clarke at Lancaster University, UK, who developed Matchpoint with his colleagues, designed it with this in mind, choosing a circular motion to link an object with a control that is hard to make unintentionally. In addition, the controls aren’t active while watching a show when they are hidden from view.

Surgical use

It’s well-suited for multi-tasking, too. It would be handy when your hands are occupied with something else, says Chris Harrison at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, who researches new ways of interacting with computers. “While making dinner in the kitchen, this could be very useful.”

Medical professionals have expressed an interest for the same reason. Surgeons sometimes have to access information on a screen during surgery, for example. “They wouldn’t have to put the tools down and touch anything, which would be unhygienic,” says Clarke.

Focusing on movement makes the system accessible to a wider range of people. Whereas hand gestures are restrictive for people with certain disabilities, Matchpoint can be easily tailored to individual needs.

In everyday situations though, using objects as controls could be just a novelty. “A remote control or more rudimentary hand gestures might be more practical,” says Harrison. Since the system relies on a webcam, it struggles when lighting is poor. And if a chosen object is too small, it would be hard for the system to track it.

Still, Clarke and his team plan to add additional functions. A simple gesture could be used to wake up the system while watching a programme, for example. The concept will be demonstrated at the UIST2017 conference in Quebec City in Canada next month.

Source: News Scientist