A printing press without a touchscreen?

Tablet computers could soon be turned into hand gesture recognition devices following a technological breakthrough in the UK. Software developed by researchers at the University of Warwick in Coventry would allow 2D cameras in everyday consumer electronic products (such as mobile phones and tablet computers) to become hand-gesture recognition (HGR) devices in uncontrolled environments with both natural and artificial light.

Co-inventor Yi Yao and Professor Chang-Tsun Li.

Co-inventor Yi Yao and Professor Chang-Tsun Li.

The first-ever real-time natural light 2D hand-gesture recognition technology would enable users to interact naturally without any mechanical devices. Using the concept, it’s possible for instance to point a finger at a computer screen so that the cursor will move accordingly. This could potentially make conventional input devices such as a mouse, keyboard and even touchscreen redundant.

The technology may have future implications for the printing and graphic arts industry, especially regarding production workflow and design. For example, imagine running an offset or digital press without the need of conventional touchscreen commands; or designing on a computer without using a traditional mouse.

Experts say that the technology is a long way away. However, since the early 1990s, HGR has been researched intensively in both academic and industrial environments. Until now there have been no successful academic theories or commercial products that have performed robust HGR in uncontrolled environments. Existing HGR technologies require infrared or 3D cameras, will only work in artificial light and have been limited to the gaming industry and smart TVs. The new technology, which can also recognize both gesture and posture, is more economical and practical to use – and opens up the possibilities of HGR being used in other industrial sectors.

Co-inventor Yi Yao argued that the new technology could have a wide-range of real-world uses. “Consumers are already aware of existing HGR technology being used, and not always working, with gaming consoles and smart TV. While it will be able to overcome the problems currently faced by users, our new technology could be used in sectors and fields in need of new possibilities.”

Professor Chang-Tsun Li from the University of Warwick’s Department of Computer Science added that: “The research is a highly significant breakthrough when compared to the existing technology that can only function in isolated and non-real-life environments. Along with the ability to continue working when other people are moving in the background, to adapt to changing lighting conditions and to cope when the hand temporarily moves out of sight, our research not only goes beyond existing HGR technology, but it also makes it practical and easily available for consumers.”