Although there are already systems that allow us to control devices via hand gestures, they typically either rely upon visual sensors such as cameras, or they utilize accelerometers and gyroscopes. Scientists from Swiss research center Empa, however, have devised a new technology that goes about gesture control in a different way – it's integrated into a normal-looking watch strap, and it's already been used to control a drone.
Developed by a team led by Frank Clemens, the strap contains 3D-printed fibers that are piezoresistive. This means that their electrical resistance changes in response to mechanical pressure, such as that which is exerted in the wrist when the hand makes movements such as finger-pointing, or forming a fist. Those changes in resistance – which vary with the particular gesture – are converted into command signals, which are wirelessly transmitted to the device being controlled.
In the case of the drone, waving the hand to left or right causes the aircraft to turn accordingly, while making a fist causes it to land. Plans call for the strap to also identify and assign commands to sequences of gestures, such as closing the hand into a fist twice in succession.
According to Empa, one of the things that makes the technology special is the fact that it can detect even relatively minute, subtle gestures – by contrast, using traditional gesture recognition systems, gestures need to be larger, more well-defined, and within a certain speed range.
The system can be seen in use, in the video below.