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Ultrasound-powered gestures allow for advanced control of smartwatches

A new system allows smartwatches to be navigated using advanced hand gestures that are tracked using ultrasound technology.

Hand gestures have been suggested as an intuitive and easy way of interacting with and controlling smart devices in different surroundings.

For instance, a gesture could be used to dim the lights in the living room, or to open and close a window.

Some simple wrist-based gestures are already present on smartwatches powered by Google’s Android Wear platform, but the functionality is limited to simple menu navigation.

Example of the different gestures that could be used

Hand gesture recognition can be achieved in many ways, but the placement of a sensor is a major restriction and often rules out certain techniques.

A research team from the University of Bristol have proposed using ultrasonic imaging of the forearm to recognise hand gestures.

Ultrasonic imaging is already used in medicine, such as pregnancy scans along with muscle and tendon movement, and the researchers saw the potential for this to be used as a way of understanding hand movement.

The team used image-processing algorithms and machine learning to classify muscle movement as gestures. They also carried out a user study to find the best sensor placement for this technique.

The findings showed a very high recognition accuracy, and importantly this sensing method worked well at the wrist, which is ideal as it allows future wearable devices, such as smartwatches, to combine this ultrasonic technique to sense gestures.

Jess McIntosh, PhD student in the department of computer science said: “With current technologies, there are many practical issues that prevent a small, portable ultrasonic imaging sensor integrated into a smartwatch. Nevertheless, our research is a first step towards what could be the most accurate method for detecting hand gestures in smartwatches.”

In June a team developed a biosensor that could be used in hand-held or wearable devices to monitor the health of the wearer and their exposure to dangerous bacteria, viruses and pollutants. 

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