Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Adding to our senses...

By: Reetasri Bhattacharjee

Even in this day of high technological advancement, we human beings still rely on our five senses for perceiving any information. Technocrats have often wondered if a device could be developed that could take place of the abstract concept of the sixth sense. The Media Lab of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) under Pattie Maes, has come up with an unique device which is a wearable gestural interface that augments the physical world around us with digital information and lets us use the natural hand gestures to interact with that information. This is the “Sixth Sense” deviced by Pranav Mistry, a research scholar in the Media Lab of MIT.

According to the developers of the Sixth Sense, in today’s increasing consumerism, the internet has become our constant companion to get added information about things and people. We also use our mobiles to connect to the internet and get any information about anything we want. But the point here is, “whenever we want the information, we search for it”. The information does not come automatically. Sixth Sense will help in getting any information (like the quality of the product, the current rating of the product on the internet, the significance of the product etc) about products and purchases automatically when we are choosing something. Basically the device will help us to make the correct purchasing decision about any product. Further, if seeing a scenery, we want to take a photograph, we will no longer need to take out our mobile cameras to do so. Just the standard hand gesture of framing a picture will take the scene and store it in the mobile computer. There are many other things that can be done with the Sixth Sense.

The prototype implements many applications that demonstrate flexibility, viability and usefulness of the system. Other interesting applications are the map application which lets the user navigate a map displayed on a nearby surface using hand gestures allowing us to zoom in, zoom out, resize and even pan the movement. In another application, we can draw on any surface. This will again be done by the device tracking our hand movement on the air. If we want a watch to see the time, just making a circle on the wrist will display the clock on the hand and when we have seen the time a simple erasing gesture will remove it. If a person comes infront of us, all information about him available on him over the internet will get displayed on the person’s body. If we want to log into our e-mail, the gesture of tracking the “@” sign will display our e-mail.

The Sixth Sense prototype is comprised of a pocket projector, a mirror and a camera. The hardware components are coupled in a pendant like mobile wearable device. Both the projector and the camera are connected to the mobile computing device in the user’s pocket. The projector projects visual information enabling surfaces, walls and physical objects around us to be used as interfaces; while the camera recognizes and tracks user's hand gestures and physical objects using computer-vision based techniques. The software program processes the video stream data captured by the camera and tracks the locations of the colored markers (visual tracking fiducials) at the tip of the user’s fingers using simple computer-vision techniques. The movements and arrangements of these fiducials are interpreted into gestures that act as interaction instructions for the projected application interfaces. The maximum number of tracked fingers is only constrained by the number of unique fiducials, thus Sixth Sense also supports multi-touch and multi-user interaction.

Sixth Sense is still in the labs and has not been launched for the general public. But even in this stage, it has cost just $350. If any easy calculation is made, when it will go more mass production, the value will come down further. Its creator, Pranav Mistry has already got the “Best Innovation Award, 2009” for this product. It is surely an innovation to look forward to. This has the potential for bringing the internet and added information all the more closer to us. There are certain points in the device that can be abused more than used, for example, the application of clicking a photograph without any visible device. The application which gives added information about a person is also controversial. It will take the product to be launched for the mass to see what its impact will be on our lifestyle.

This blog has been contributed by Reetasri Bhattacharjee a dear friend of mine. She is a regular blogger on blogspot and maintains the blog My Passing Moments


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