Minority Report-style gesture tech can turn cups and pet cats into remote controls

University of Lancaster's research team showing how the new technology worksUniversity of Lancaster

Ever since Spielberg's adaptation of Minority Report hit our screens in the early noughties, inventors have been chasing the promise of that gesture-recognition scene.

In the flick, Tom Cruise's character is seen flicking through computer files projected onto a large computer screen using nothing but his hands. Years later, firms like Microsoft and Sony would chase the dream by building similar tech into their 'Kinect' and 'Move' product ranges.

Yet it never quite lived up to the initial Hollywood tease. In most cases, the software used in the devices was laggy, unresponsive and lacked the cool factor.

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But that may be about to change, according to researchers from Lancaster University who claim to have designed a "revolutionary" new gesture technology that turns everyday objects into remote controls.

Unlike existing gesture technology, the team's new software does not look for a specific body part it has been trained to identify – such as a hand or face.

Instead, it uses what experts call "spontaneous spatial coupling" which is able to recognise generic rotation gestures as a control method.

In a release this week (2 October), researchers said that cups, toy cars or even furry pets could all be used to change a TV's main functions – such as volume, channels or menus. The tech (dubbed "Matchpoint") works by assigning rotation gestures to a set of simple sliders.

It is intuitive: a horizontal slider means that clockwise will increase the volume, while anti-clockwise does the opposite. If the slider is vertical, a gentle nod of the head can be used instead.

It specifically looks for the rotation movement, meaning that it does not require a tedious calibration process and does not need to have prior knowledge of objects to track, the team claimed.

Christopher Clarke, a developer of the technology at Lancaster University, said: "Spontaneous spatial coupling is a new approach to gesture control that works by matching movement.

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"Our method allows for a much more user-friendly experience where you can change channels without having to put down your drink, or change your position.

"Everyday objects in the house can now easily become remote controls so there are no more frantic searches for remote controls when your favourite programme is about to start on another channel, and now everyone in the room has the 'remote'.

"You could even change the channel with your pet cat."

Researchers said the software is not confined to televisions, claiming it could also be incorporated into other devices. YouTube videos could be paused or skipped on tablets, for example, and it may also prove useful as an accessibility tool for people unable to use traditional pointers.

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The team will present its findings at the UIST2017 conference in Quebec City later this month in a paper titled: "Matchpoint: Spontaneous spatial coupling of body movement for touchless pointing."

So Minority Report is one step closer to reality – even if it comes at the expense of your cat.

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