2011 Breakout year for 3D gesture control

EEtimes reporst that several years after its first consumer market appearance in the wireless gaming interface for Nintendo’s Wii, MEMS sensor-based gesture recognition is extending its reach to smartphones and is set to take hold of that most iconic of consumer interfaces: the TV remote.

Apple was the first to pick up on microelectromechanical sensors’ potential for building more intuitive smartphone interfaces; it added MEMS accelerometers to the iPhone in 2007 and a MEMS gyroscope in 2010. Its competitors have followed suit, and soon 3-D commands such as shake-to-undo, lift-to-answer and face-down-to-disconnect will be standard smartphone fare.

Today, consumer OEMs are adding 3-D gesture recognition across their product lines. Some are using camera-based techniques licensed from GestureTek Inc. (Sunnyvale, Calif.); others have licensed MEMS approaches from Hillcrest Laboratories Inc. (Rockville, Md.) or Movea Inc. (Grenoble, France). Movea holds more than 250 related patents, covering such techniques as the use of a gyroscope to control cursors; Hillcrest holds more than 100, including a patent on the use of an accelerometer with a gyroscope for tracking motion. Both companies also offer value-added software development tools for 3-D gesture designers (Movea’s Gesture Builder and Hillcrest’s Freespace MotionStudio).

Google, for its part, has added MEMS-based gesture recognition application programming interfaces to the Gingerbread release of the Android OS, which recognizes such gestures as tilt, spin, thrust and slice.

“Motion processing has finally been accepted by the mainstream,” said Steve Nasiri, founder of InvenSense Inc. (Sunnyvale), the first MEMS chip maker to combine an accelerometer and gyroscope on one die. “We predict that the hardware for motion processing and gesture recognition will become as ubiquitous in smartphones as the camera module.”

The InvenSense Motion Processing Library turned up at the International Consumer Electronics Show in both the first television remote control to harness 3-D gesture recognition and the first smartphone to apply it for primary phone functions (such as answering the phone merely by lifting it to the ear).

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