Gesture recognition: Coming soon to your entire home (Video)

By Matthew Klickstein , Jun 05, 2013 12:33 PM EDT

Those who have admired Iron Man's Tony Stark and his gesture recognition technology throughout his workshop and hyper tech-infused dream house have something to look forward to in the real world. That very same technology may now be coming to a household near you (or even your own).

Gesture recognition technology allows the user to control everything from the lights in a room to the volume of a stereo, all with the swipe or "gesture" of the hand. The bygone days of the comical oratory light-switch "the Clapper" are now gone, as we rocket forth into the true power of the technology of the 21st century.

But how can gesture recognition jump from the world of sci-fi movies, books and television programs to your house?

Seattle, Wash.'s University of Washington announced on Tuesday, June 4 that researchers based at the school have come to find that gesture recognition throughout the house is possible without the need of extra sensors or even cameras placed about the building thanks to the fact that Wi-Fi signals can apparently be used to detect human movement independent of such aforementioned indecorous of bulky hardware.

All one needs, according to the UW release on the subject, is a Wi-Fi router that has been adapted for use with wireless devices around the household.

"This is repurposing wireless signals that already exist in new ways," UW Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Engineering Shyam Gollakota said. Gollakota is also the lead researcher on the project.

"You can actually use wireless for gesture recognition without needing to deploy more sensors," Gollakota said.

Along with the rest of his lab, Gollakota is working with colleague Shwetak Patek, an assistant professor of computer science and engineering and of electrical engineering, on the adapted Wi-Fi technology that is being called "WiSee." The group has submitted its findings to this year's MobiCom, which is the 19th Annual International Conference on Mobile Computing and Networking.

Because Wi-Fi signals are not limited by walls or line-of-sight/sound restrictions, they can be used by home dwellers who want to control devices that might not even be in the same room as they. WiSee is therefore, according to the UW release, a kind of cheaper and simpler version of the same brand of technology that is employed for the Xbox Kinect, which instead of Wi-Fi signals, does use cumbersome cameras to allow for gesture recognition to take place.

A "smart" receiver was built by the researchers to "hear" all of the various transmissions coming from the innumerable wireless devices in the house, be they smartphones, tablets or laptops. When a person in the house moves his or her hand (or even, say, foot), the frequency of the signals change and thus the device can detect that something should be turned on/off or up/down, as the case might be.

"These frequency changes are very small - only several hertz - when compared with Wi-Fi signals that have a 20 megahertz bandwidth and operate at 5 gigahertz," the UW release continues, adding that, "Researchers developed an algorithm to detect these slight shifts. The technology also accounts for gaps in wireless signals when devices aren't transmitting."

The nine different gestures that WiSee can already identify (with, at this point, 94 percent accuracy) include: pushing, pulling, punching and even full-body bowling.

"This is the first whole-home gesture recognition system that works without either requiring instrumentation of the user with sensors or deploying cameras in every room," project collaborator and visiting UW student Qifan Pu said.

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