Computing Now Exclusive Content — September 2010

News Archive

July 2012

Gig.U Project Aims for an Ultrafast US Internet

June 2012

Bringing Location and Navigation Technology Indoors

May 2012

Plans Under Way for Roaming between Cellular and Wi-Fi Networks

Encryption System Flaw Threatens Internet Security

April 2012

For Business Intelligence, the Trend Is Location, Location, Location

Corpus Linguistics Keep Up-to-Date with Language

March 2012

Are Tomorrow's Firewalls Finally Here Today?

February 2012

Spatial Humanities Brings History to Life

December 2011

Could Hackers Take Your Car for a Ride?

November 2011

What to Do about Supercookies?

October 2011

Lights, Camera, Virtual Moviemaking

September 2011

Revolutionizing Wall Street with News Analytics

August 2011

Growing Network-Encryption Use Puts Systems at Risk

New Project Could Promote Semantic Web

July 2011

FBI Employs New Botnet Eradication Tactics

Google and Twitter "Like" Social Indexing

June 2011

Computing Commodities Market in the Cloud

May 2011

Intel Chips Step up to 3D

Apple Programming Error Raises Privacy Concerns

Thunderbolt Promises Lightning Speed

April 2011

Industrial Control Systems Face More Security Challenges

Microsoft Effort Takes Down Massive Botnet

March 2011

IP Addresses Getting Security Upgrade

February 2011

Studios Agree on DRM Infrastructure

January 2011

New Web Protocol Promises to Reduce Browser Latency

To Be or NAT to Be?

December 2010

Intel Gets inside the Helmet

Tuning Body-to-Body Networks with RF Modeling

November 2010

New Wi-Fi Spec Simplifies Connectivity

Expanded Top-Level Domains Could Spur Internet Real Estate Boom

October 2010

New Weapon in War on Botnets

September 2010

Content-Centered Internet Architecture Gets a Boost

Gesturing Going Mainstream

August 2010

Is Context-Aware Computing Ready for the Limelight?

Flexible Routing in the Cloud

Signal Congestion Rejuvenates Interest in Cell Paging-Channel Protocol

July 2010

New Protocol Improves Interaction among Networked Devices and Applications

Security for Domain Name System Takes a Big Step Forward

The ROADM to Smarter Optical Networking

Distributed Cache Goes Mainstream

June 2010

New Application Protects Mobile-Phone Passwords

WiGig Alliance Reveals Ultrafast Wireless Specification

Cognitive Radio Adds Intelligence to Wireless Technology

May 2010

New Product Uses Light Connections in Blade Server

April 2010

Browser Fingerprints Threaten Privacy

New Animation Technique Uses Motion Frequencies to Shake Trees

March 2010

Researchers Take Promising Approach to Chemical Computing

Screen-Capture Programming: What You See is What You Script

Research Project Sends Data Wirelessly at High Speeds via Light

February 2010

Faster Testing for Complex Software Systems

IEEE 802.1Qbg/h to Simplify Data Center Virtual LAN Management

Distributed Data-Analysis Approach Gains Popularity

Twitter Tweak Helps Haiti Relief Effort

January 2010

2010 Rings in Some Y2K-like Problems

Infrastructure Sensors Improve Home Monitoring

Internet Search Takes a Semantic Turn

December 2009

Phase-Change Memory Technology Moves toward Mass Production

IBM Crowdsources Translation Software

Digital Ants Promise New Security Paradigm

November 2009

Program Uses Mobile Technology to Help with Crises

More Cores Keep Power Down

White-Space Networking Goes Live

Mobile Web 2.0 Experiences Growing Pains

October 2009

More Spectrum Sought for Body Sensor Networks

Optics for Universal I/O and Speed

High-Performance Computing Adds Virtualization to the Mix

ICANN Accountability Goes Multinational

RFID Tags Chat Their Way to Energy Efficiency

September 2009

Delay-Tolerant Networks in Your Pocket

Flash Cookies Stir Privacy Concerns

Addressing the Challenge of Cloud-Computing Interoperability

Ephemeralizing the Web

August 2009

Bluetooth Speeds Up

Grids Get Closer

DCN Gets Ready for Production

The Sims Meet Science

Sexy Space Threat Comes to Mobile Phones

July 2009

WiGig Alliance Makes Push for HD Specification

New Dilemnas, Same Principles:
Changing Landscape Requires IT Ethics to Go Mainstream

Synthetic DNS Stirs Controversy:
Why Breaking Is a Good Thing

New Approach Fights Microchip Piracy

Technique Makes Strong Encryption Easier to Use

New Adobe Flash Streams Internet Directly to TVs

June 2009

Aging Satellites Spark GPS Concerns

The Changing World of Outsourcing

North American CS Enrollment Rises for First Time in Seven Years

Materials Breakthrough Could Eliminate Bootups

April 2009

Trusted Computing Shapes Self-Encrypting Drives

March 2009

Google, Publishers to Try New Advertising Methods

Siftables Offer New Interaction Model for Serious Games

Hulu Boxed In by Media Conglomerates

February 2009

Chips on Verge of Reaching 32 nm Nodes

Hathaway to Lead Cybersecurity Review

A Match Made in Heaven: Gaming Enters the Cloud

January 2009

Government Support Could Spell Big Year for Open Source

25 Reasons For Better Programming

Web Guide Turns Playstation 3 Consoles into Supercomputing Cluster

Flagbearers for Technology: Contemporary Techniques Showcase US Artifact and European Treasures

December 2008

.Tel TLD Debuts As New Way to Network

Science Exchange

November 2008

The Future is Reconfigurable

Gesturing Going Mainstream

by George Lawton

The computer interface could take another big leap with a variety of lower-cost techniques for tracking hand gestures. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed software that can track a $2 Lycra glove with a special pattern on it using a cheap webcam. Other efforts are focusing on using more cameras and increased computer horsepower to recognize bare hands.

The successes of the Wii and iPhone demonstrated the importance of moving beyond traditional button, joystick, and mouse interfaces. Companies exploring ways to expand the possibilities include Microsoft, which plans to release the Kinect full-body-tracking interface for the Xbox game system in November. Kinect uses cameras to track large body movements with fidelity, but it lacks the precision to distinguish minute hand gestures, said MIT graduate student Robert Wang.

The idea of gesture-tracking gloves has been around for some time. The VPL DataGlove came to market in 1987, using novel fiber-optic sensors for tracking finger movements. The technology hasn't come down in price appreciably since it was introduced. A pair of gesture-tracking gloves starts at $1,300 and goes up to $40,000 for a higher end system with force feedback, said Lee Dickholtz, principal at Meta Motion Systems. Another approach that uses a multicamera-based system with special reflector tape worn on the fingers or gloves starts at about $6,000.

The high costs have constrained hand-gesture tracking to high-end applications such as engineering, computer animation, and science. Wang predicts that a lower-cost gesture-tracking interface could be useful in learning sign language, mastering the piano, manipulating 3D drawings, and as a general interface.

More Horsepower

The most obvious approach to improving the gestural interface is to add more cameras and computational horsepower.

For example, a team of researchers at Fraunhofer HHI in Germany have developed the iPoint, which is optimized for tracking the motion of a single finger. The iPoint's cameras and infrared lights are housed in a special tray about the size of a keyboard that connects to a computer via a FireWire port. It can track a fingertip in real time at 50 Hz with millimeter-precise 3D coordinates. It's currently used in a custom medical application that Karl Storz AG developed to reduce hygiene issues associated with physically touching a computer in an operating room.

In the US, Edge 3 Technologies is pursuing a computationally intense approach, developing algorithms to run on the latest generation of highly-parallelized GPUs for PCs. The GPUs can provide 100 times the processing power of a standard CPU.

"These algorithms are challenging to develop and are very different from sequential proof-of-concept type of algorithms," said Tarek El Dokor, CEO of Edge 3 Technologies. "However, once they're mastered, they enable third-party applications in gesture recognition that are truly amazing and at very reasonable prices, since they utilize off-the-shelf cameras."

Working Smarter

The MIT researchers turned the recognition problem on its head. Wang and MIT associate professor Jovan Popavic realized they could make the gesture-recognition algorithms more efficient by reducing gestures to 40 X 40 pixel images. They generate the unique patterns from the layout of a glove with specially placed color splotches.

Wang said the image is sufficiently descriptive and compact to capture hand gestures economically. "We can tell what pose the hand is in just from a tiny 40 X 40 pixel image, and the image is small enough that it doesn't take up very much space."

Other finger-modeling approaches are more computationally intensive. They must first perform feature detection to determine the finger locations and other kinds of analysis to compare their relative positions. In contrast, the color patches on the MIT gloves generate patterns that map directly to finger positions.

The color-glove interface can track a hand using a single $50 web camera with a wide-angle lens. It takes about 15 seconds to calibrate the first time so that it can learn the hand size and lighting. The system detects the 3D orientation and 3D position of the hands as well as the finger configuration. Wang said that it could enhance gaming systems, such as Microsoft Kinect, to support hand gestures.

The interface isn't yet up to the same accuracy as a mouse or even a touch screen, Wang said. But it lets users provide 3D input in a more natural way. The system is currently in private beta, and Wang expects it to be ready for more widespread use in a couple of months.

Don’t Throw Out the Mouse…Yet

There are challenges in moving "out of the gimmick realm and into mainstream adoption," noted El Dokor. "Many will oversell, few will deliver. For this to work, the expectations have to match reality."

More work is needed for the software stack to integrate with applications like Skype and gaming platforms like the Xbox. Furthermore, El Dokor said that developers will have to get comfortable working on high-performance applications that run at 60 frames per second with high resolution.

User acceptance also poses a challenge, noted Paul Chojecki, a research scientist at Fraunhofer HHI. "The lack of haptic technology really hurts. It’s hard to learn how to use a gesture-control system with bare hands in the air."

Despite the challenges, many proponents expect gesture-driven computing to thrive in the long run. "Gaming with Microsoft Kinect is just the beginning," said Chojecki. "But it will bring the idea of a contact-free interaction to living rooms all over the world." He sees the advantages in vandal-proofing, hygiene, and size driving the replacement of touch screens in many areas.

For more information on the MIT project, see

George Lawton is a freelance correspondent in Guerneville, California. You can contact him via his website