Contactless Interfaces

The wheels of progress never stop turning. Even now, in our everyday life we can enjoy the technology that just few years ago could only be encountered in science fiction films. The development of computer technology, cellular communication, electronic control systems, greatly simplifies our lives by allowing us to be more flexible and mobile, to adjust to this modern, fast-paced way of living. As computer systems become more complex, more effort is put into trying to make multi-functional and portable devices, easily accessible, intuitive, simple and comfortable for everyone.

The easiest way to follow this trend is by taking a look at the mobile phone market. The first mobile phones were bulky and uncomfortable, with limited functionalities, low battery life and sometimes uncomfortable push-button controls. Their technology improved, and now phones have become smaller more ergonomic, with new features and more logical and thoughtful controls. Later built-in displays came out; first they were monochrome and little after became color. Mobile phone has become more than just a mere means of communication: initially, it was equipped with personal organizer, a list of contacts, calendar, address book and alarm clock. Later these devices were able to play music, receive broadcasting stations and take photos or record streaming video thanks to integrated cameras. The next breakthrough was the use of accelerometers and touch screens; this brought mobile phones to a new level of comfort and control, making them truly intuitive.

The analogy of this can be also found in the development of computer technology and multimedia devices; nowadays touch monitors acquire a growing popularity, tablet computers are surely winning market shares. When reading books, watching web content or photos, we already are accustomed to imitate the page turn by easily dragging our finger across the display instead of pressing a button. We’ve got used to omnipresent remote controls, wireless manipulators and the lack of buttons in payment terminals. But this is not the limit of technology development, researchers and developers are always ready to surprise us with something new.

In recent years many developers have shown strong interest in so-called contactless interfaces that allow interacting with computers, without even touching it, through looks, gestures, voice commands and even by transmission of mental impulses. This is not fiction, these projects are not far from realization, and they already have prototypes, design and marketed products. Their range of application is wide and goes from entertainment and gaming industry to the military and medical fields. Consequently now we can easily say that contactless interfaces are firmly entrenched in our lives.

Why contactless interfaces? This question is difficult to answer uniquely. First this will give a greater mobility in controls. Where ever you are, from anywhere within the range of sensor devices, you can control it. Secondly, the language of gestures is intuitive and comprehensible for everyone. Gestures are unable to be too complex and ambiguous, they are easy to remember and to use, and we already use them in everyday life. Furthermore it can attract those for whom the use of modern computers and home electronics is complicated and inconvenient.

But the possibility to manage the devices of new generation will not be limited only to gestures. For many years, scientists from big companies developed algorithms and hardware models capable to analyze and accurately recognize human speech. This will give the possibility to control them with voice commands. Such developments are particularly interesting for medical areas - such devices can be used for people with damaged locomotor system. Over time sensor systems that read impulses directly from the brain will become more sophisticated and then no other control devices will be need to establish a connection between man and machine.

Total utility and perspectives of contactless technologies

Contactless technologies are gradually entering our lives. For now in separate little unrelated projects, developments, technical plans. But it’s clear that something that a few years ago was just an idea is now becoming an innovative project. If we rely on the information about high-tech technologies currently in development in contactless management, neuroscience and robotics, our near future can be easily imagined. The tech future, as it will in just a few years. The future that will be both complex and simple in the same time.

Difficult, because each of the technical and applied disciplines continues rapidly developing and becoming more complex. The devices are becoming smaller and more convenient, but way more complicated technically. New principles of recording and storing information with its ever-growing volumes; new services and features for the average user; steady and rapid performance growth.

And simple, because even the most sophisticated devices will be easy to manage with a gentle touch, voice, gestures, and even the power of thought. No matter how technically perfect is a device, its whole management will be reduced to intuitive gestures and commands: this device can be managed, as well by a grown man, well versed in technology, as by a child, or an older man. They can be controlled by perfectly healthy people as well as those whose capabilities are limited. The limited capabilities could even be altogether forgotten thanks to prosthetics that will become so advanced that the artificial limbs and organs will function no worse than natural and have the same sensitivity. A man with such prostheses can feel the world around, like the others, and have a full life.

If we return to the present from the projects and thinking about the future, we could see that the number of developments in all areas is progressively growing. Various systems of sign and gesture control of machinery are already patented; speech recognition systems are becoming more perfect and applicable. Electronic devices around us perfectly respond not only to the position of the body and movements of the limbs, but also to the gaze and facial expressions. Prototypes of devices that can be controlled by means of facial muscles already exist; for example, an audio player created in one of the research laboratories in Japan, is able to determine the mood of the owner based on his facial expressions and select on its own an appropriate music. Each day there are more and more of such interesting and ambitious projects.

New control systems are easy to understand. For example, a man needs only few minutes or tens of minutes to get used to the gesture control; to learn using a neural interface from one hour to several days might be needed; gaze tracking and voice control technologies do not require any skills at all. Combining all these systems can give a next generation operating system. The first steps towards the development of such an operating system have already been made by Microsoft - the user could control it by voice commands and a special system of gestures.

Technologies are evolving faster than we sometimes think. It is possible that in the near future new and promising developments related to virtual, combined and augmented realities will appear.

Eye trackers for home use

Fortunately, the manufacturers of eye-tracking systems are not limited by the development of only high-precision devices for the needs of medical institutions. There is a number of eye trackers that patients can successfully use at home. These devices not only allow you to compose with your eyes a specific text, but have much more functionality.

Eye trackers can allow you to control the computer. Instead of a keyboard and mouse, the user will use his gaze - in this case he could work with email, Internet, complex graphics editors, and any other programs. In addition to this, eye-tracking devices are used in intelligent control systems of household appliances, lighting, air conditioning, TV, CD player, and so on. This will create the most favorable conditions for patients who have to constantly remain in the same position and allow them to manage everything on their own without the presence of a nurse or an assistant.

Leading manufacturers of eye trackers produce their equipment in a variety of configurations and supplement them with separately purchased modules, so that it won’t be difficult to find the right system regardless of whether or not the patient has contact lenses, glasses, opens his eyes wide enough, has a clear vision, or focuses when concentrating. Some professional systems can be adequately calibrated and configured to work correctly, even if the patient makes sharp movements of the head, characteristic for patients with damaged motor centers or complex visual defects.

The downside of home eye trackers’ efficiency is their high cost. Depending on the manufacturer, the technical characteristics of the device, and the software set that comes with it, the price of such systems varies from 7000 $11,000 or more. This high price is due to the complexity of the technology used, the extensive functionality of the device, significant monopolization of the market, as well as a long warranty on the modules, which most often is paid. Another difficulty which users will have to face when buying eye trackers is that most models produced in Europe do not have the support of some National language.