Fingertip device points the way

Researchers at the University at Buffalo’s Virtual Reality Lab have unveiled the Fingertip Digitiser, which users wear on the tip of the index finger to control a computer or other electronic device.



Rather than the two-dimensional plane of a mouse, the device can communicate the meaning and intent of common hand gestures, such as pointing, wagging the finger, tapping in the air or other movements that can be used to direct the actions of an electronic device. It can also convey to a computer very precise information about the physical characteristics of an object when a user touches it.



‘The gesture-recognition function of this device, in particular, has great potential for a wide range of applications, from personal computing to medical diagnostics to computer games,’ said Young-Seok Kim, a doctor of mechanical engineering at UB. Kim created the Fingertip Digitiser with Thenkurussi Kesavadas, director of UB’s Virtual Reality Lab and associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering in the UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.



According to Kesavadas, the Fingertip Digitiser will help bridge the gap between what a person knows and what a computer knows.



‘With this device, a computer, mobile phone or computer game could read human intention more naturally,’ he said. ‘Eventually the Fingertip Digitiser may be used as a high-end substitute for a mouse, a keyboard or a joystick.’



The Fingertip Digitiser is an advance in haptic technology, an emerging field focused on bringing a sense of touch to technological devices. Most haptic tools on the market are designed as probes and are gripped like a pen. They can be difficult to manipulate and therefore may not give a precise representation of the object the user is feeling.



The Fingertip Digitiser’s design, the researchers say, is modelled after the biomechanical properties of a finger, which means it can more accurately and intuitively sense the physical properties of an object. To sense touch and movement, the device uses a force sensor, an accelerometer and a motion tracker, all contained in thimble-sized device that fits on a user’s finger.