Tired of doing the scroll, click and drag with a mouse? A team of Oregon State University student engineers has developed a more natural way to use computers. Their “wireless hand sensor” may not only help reduce hand and wrist injuries associated with repetitive motion but may have applications in robotics, medicine and computer gaming.
Mushfiqur Sarker, Jason Muhlestein and Anton Bilbaeno attached their sensor to a glove equipped with communications capability and conductive fabric. By moving the hand left and right or up and down, users can move objects on a computer screen. Moreover, by touching the glove’s thumb to a spot on one of the fingers, they can perform operations such as opening or closing files or navigating through a digital map.
The students won the Industry Award at the annual Oregon State engineering expo last spring. In July, they took second place (and a $7,500 award) in a national analog design contest sponsored by Texas Instruments, one of the world’s largest microprocessor manufacturers. They estimate the cost of the wireless glove at just under $50.
“It allows you to control a computer from a distance,” says Muhlestein. “It could be fit to other devices, such as a ‘smart’ TV, an air conditioner equipped with wireless capability or sundry devices in the home.”
Remote control is familiar to gamers (Nintendo’s popular Wii computer game uses a “Wiimote”), and new devices such as Leap Motion (leapmotion.com) recognize hand gestures. The students saw room for improvement. “We didn’t like the fact that you have to hold it (the Wiimote),” says Muhlestein. “Our device eliminates all of that. We also don’t need any extra hardware. Everything is on your hand.”
The heart of the invention consists of two components: an accelerometer to measure the velocity of hand movements and a gyroscope to track rotation. They comprise an “inertial measurement unit” that is attached to the back of the glove, leaving the thumb and fingers free.
In manufacturing, the glove could give technicians a natural way to control robotic arms. It could also assist surgeons in performing operations remotely.
“The wireless hand sensor project was exceptional because it approached the project from a real usability standpoint,” says Donald Heer, who taught the capstone design course in which the students were enrolled. “They thought about the user, the technology and marketability. This very broad approach really let them shine as one of the best examples of Electrical and Computer Engineering senior design.”
For the time being, further development has taken a back seat to other priorities. Sarker is now pursuing a Ph.D. in “smart grid” technologies at the University of Washington. Muhlestein has entered the master’s program at Oregon State, working in analog-to-digital signal conversion with professor Un-Ku Moon. Bilbaeno is employed by Allion Engineering Services in Portland.
If it were commercialized, their invention could compete with another innovation that traces its roots to Oregon State. Alumnus Douglas Englebart invented the computer mouse in 1964.