Look, Ma, no mouse!
New motion-sensing glove could become virtual keyboard

By Diane Ainsworth, Public Affairs



The acceleration-sensing glove is adorned with tiny confetti-sized accelerometers on each fingertip, which relay information on the position of the fingers to a controller mounted on the top of the glove. The controller transmits the data to a wrist controller, which then sends it to a receiver. When the glove is connected to a computer, the digital data can be converted to text using a specially tailored software program.
Photo courtesy of the UC Berkeley Sensor and Actuator Center

09 May 2001 | It looks something like a bicyclist’s glove, but John Perng, a 21-year-old Berkeley electrical engineering senior, hopes it will replace the computer mouse and keyboard some day. He calls it the “acceleration-sensing glove,” although he knows he’ll have to find a catchier name to turn it into a commercial success.

The hand wear is a prototype for the first wireless glove capable of sensing the location and movement of the human fingers and hand and transmitting that information to a nearby receiver. Plug the receiver into a computer and presto! Consumers will have a wearable, wireless keyboard or mouse-pointing device to help them navigate the Internet.

“This glove, which we call the acceleration-sensing glove, detects and translates finger and hand motions into computer interpreted signals,” said Perng, who works in the university’s Sensor and Actuator Center. “In the rapidly expanding field of wearable computing, this input device could be used much like a palm pilot, an appliance-control remote, an e-mail station or cell phone to access the digital world from virtually any place at any time.”

Gone will be the days when people are tied to their desktop keyboards. Wearable computers with high-speed, low-power radio links — devices like the glove, the Internet watch, e-mail glasses and lapel identity badges — are next in line after the armada of handheld gadgets becomes too cumbersome to lug around.

Perng’s glove is adorned with tiny, confetti-sized accelerometers about 1-by-1 centimeters in diameter for each fingertip, to give users a direct hand gesture-to-Internet experience. The fingertip accelerometers are wired to a controller about the size of a matchbook that sits on the top of the gloved hand. The chip includes a sixth accelerometer to measure the tilt of the hand. As the hand moves, data from the fingertip and hand sensors are relayed to a small radio transceiver on a wrist controller, which then sends the information to a computer or laptop 16.5 feet (5 meters) away.

Each accelerometer is an off-the-shelf, analog device that records the position of the fingers and the rotation of the hand with respect to gravity. According to Perng, the sensors used in the hand and wrist controllers are capable of detecting changes of three degrees of freedom in the tilt of an individual’s hand. A new software text editor, custom-designed by Perng and his colleagues to read data from the glove, will translate the information into English.

Aside from its obvious commercial appeal, the glove will have significant benefits for the hearing impaired. Currently it is capable of detecting about 36 static hand gestures used in American Sign Language and converting the data to text. Researchers hope to extend that range to the full sign language alphabet – all 64 static hand gestures.

“Signers will be able to use their hands as a computer mouse and keyboard to spell words, enter data or perform mathematical calculations – everything that is done with a keyboard,” said Perng, a recipient of a Haas Scholars Program award, which funded his design work. “Deaf people could read along in real-time from a computer monitor wherever they happen to be.”

The acceleration-sensing glove is an experimental design for commercial applications of “smart dust,” a project funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and directed by Berkeley Professor Kristofer Pister in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences. The three-year goal of the “smart dust” project is to integrate communications, intelligence, power and sensors into a package that is no larger than 1 cubic millimeter. Seth Hollar, a graduate student in mechanical engineering, and Brian Fisher, an undergraduate in computer science, helped design the circuitry and software for the data glove.

The development of these “smart dust” devices will become part of a program in human-centered computing under Berkeley’s proposed new Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society, and could hit the marketplace in the next five to 10 years.

“All of the electronics and microcircuitry we need to build these devices are commercially available and the glove will have many applications outside of helping the hearing impaired,” Perng said. “It’s part of a shift we are seeing in human-computer interactions, really just the next step in miniaturizing and refining technology.”

Eventually, devices that free up the hands will become so easy and inexpensive to manufacture that “we will all be Internet-enabled people, walking around with the ability to work and play anywhere,” he said.


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