60-Second Science

Wi-Fi Wobbling Hand Gestures Could Control Home

A system called WiSee would interpret hand gestures as gadget-governing instructions for any connected device in a home based on disruptions in ambient wi-fi signals. Karen Hopkin reports

Thanks to wi-fi we can watch movies, play games, and check e-mail, from the comfort of the couch. And soon we may be able to repurpose our wi-fi signals so we can turn on the coffeemaker or turn off the TV with a simple flick of a finger, from anywhere in the house. Researchers described their prospective system, called WiSee, at the International Conference on Mobile Computing and Networking. [Qifan Pu et al., Whole-Home Gesture Recognition Using Wireless Signals]

The idea is similar in concept to the Xbox Kinect, which uses cameras to recognize a game player’s movements, and translates them into an action onscreen. But WiSee works without cameras. Instead, it uses the ambient wireless signals put out by our smart phones, laptops, routers and tablets.

When we move, we alter the patterns of these wi-fi signals. The WiSee receiver detects these disturbances and interprets the motions that caused them, like waving or swinging your fists. Of 900 gestures tested, WiSee could identify 94 percent.

The user assigns a particular motion to a specific gadget—the motion doesn’t have to be the one that works in the real world. So if all goes well, you may actually be able to punch your lights out.

—Karen Hopkin

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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