I recently worked with Microsoft News and Allison Linn, photographing Microsoft's' gesture technology' at their research Lab in Cambridge.
Microsoft researchers are looking at a number of ways in which technology can start to recognize detailed hand motion — and engineers can put those breakthroughs to use in a wide variety of fields.
The ultimate goal: Allowing us to interact with technology in more natural ways than ever before.
“How do we interact with things in the real world? Well, we pick them up, we touch them with our fingers, we manipulate them,” said Jamie Shotton, a principal researcher in computer vision at Microsoft’s Cambridge, UK, research lab. “We should be able to do exactly the same thing with virtual objects. We should be able to reach out and touch them.”
This kind of technology is still evolving. But the computer scientists and engineers who are working on these projects say they believe they are on the cusp of making hand and gesture recognition tools practical enough for mainstream use, much like many people now use speech recognition to dictate texts or computer vision to recognize faces in photos.
That’s a key step in Microsoft’s broader goal to provide more personal computing experiences by creating technology that can adapt to how people move, speak and see, rather than asking people to adapt to how computers work.
“If we can make vision work reliably, speech work reliably and gesture work reliably, then people designing things like TVs, coffee machines or any of the Internet of Things gadgets will have a range of interaction possibilities,” said Andrew Fitzgibbon, a principal researcher with the computer vision group at the UK lab.
Although hand movement recognition isn’t being used broadly by consumers yet, Shotton said that he thinks the technology is now getting good enough that people will start to integrate it into mainstream experiences.
Let’s say you’re talking to a colleague over Skype and you’re ready to end the call. What if, instead of using your mouse or keyboard to click a button, you could simply make the movement of hanging up the phone?
When people think about hand and gesture recognition, they often think about ways it can be used for gaming or entertainment. But there is also a great potential for using gesture for everyday work tasks, like designing and giving presentations, flipping through spreadsheets, editing e-mails and browsing the web.
People could additionally use them for more creative tasks, like creating art or making music.
These types of experiences are only possible because of advances in fields including machine learning and computer vision, which have allowed his team to create a system that gives people a more natural way of interacting with technology.
The team working on hand tracking in Microsoft’s UK lab includes Tom Cashman (top left, standing), Andrew Fitzgibbon, Lucas Bordeaux, John Bronskill, (bottom row) David Sweeney, Jamie Shotton, Federica Bogo.