Microsoft unveils Digits wrist mounted hand-gesture sensor, for phones, games and more

Microsoft has unveiled a wrist-mounted sensor “bracelet” that creates a 3D model of the user’s hand in realtime and can be used to control TVs, smartphones and, of course, videogames.

The device, called Digits, was developed by Microsoft Research in Cambridge, UK, which worked with researchers at Newcastle University and the University of Crete.

The Digits bracelet uses infrared sensors to detect the wearer’s hand and then construct a “fully articulated hand skeleton” from the data it collects. The IR detector is aided by a ring of LEDs that illuminate the hand and allow for more accurate measurements.

“The Digits sensor doesn’t rely on external infrastructure which means users are not bound to a fixed space,” explained project leader David Kim. “They can interact while moving from room to room or running down the street.”

The current prototype has been constructed using off-the-shelf components, but a retail model would, in theory, offer even greater accuracy through the use of bespoke parts.

“Ultimately we would like to reduce Digits to the size of a watch that can be worn all the time,” added Kim. “We want users to be able to interact spontaneously with their electronic devices using simple gestures and not even have to reach for their devices.”

The Digits bracelet currently responds to a number of gestures, including twisting imaginary dials with pinched fingers, tapping on a virtual number pad, zooming in on an image by clenching your fist and making a gun shape with your hand and firing by pressing down your thumb.

It’s not entirely foolproof – crossed fingers, for instance, are beyond it’s current ability to recognise – but it presents an interesting opportunity to tighten up the wooly detection of Kinect if used in conjunction with Microsoft’s popular motion sensor. While Microsoft would likely be reticent to admit that Kinect needed an additional device to bring out its full potential, the fact remains that many of its frustrations would be smoothed over thanks to the greater accuracy Digits promises.