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Input Devices Hardware Hacking

Intelligent Thimble Could Replace the Mouse In 3D Virtual Reality Worlds 65

New submitter anguyen8 (3736553) writes with news of an interesting experimental spatial input device. From the article: "The mouse is a hugely useful device but it is also a two-dimensional one. But what of the three-dimensional world and the long-standing, but growing, promise of virtual reality. What kind of device will take the place of the mouse when we begin to interact in three-dimensions? Anh Nguyen and Amy Banic ... have created an intelligent thimble that can sense its position accurately in three-dimensions and respond to a set of pre-programmed gestures that allow the user to interact with objects in a virtual three-dimensional world. ... The result is the 3DTouch, a thimble-like device that sits on the end of a finger, equipped with a 3D accelerometer, a 3D magnetometer, and 3D gyroscope. That allows the data from each sensor to be compared and combined to produce a far more precise estimate of orientation than a single measurement alone. In addition, the 3DTouch has an optical flow sensor that measures the movement of the device against a two-dimensional surface, exactly like that inside an ordinary mouse." The prototype is wired up to an Arduino Uno, with a program on the host machine polling the device and converting the data into input events. A video of it in action is below the fold, a pre-print of the research paper is on arxiv, and a series of weblog entries explain some of the development.

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Intelligent Thimble Could Replace the Mouse In 3D Virtual Reality Worlds

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  • I remember the thimble IBM used on one of their early laptops long ago,, thanks.
    • by Kremmy ( 793693 )
      I remember it as well...and found IBM's to be surprisingly high quality. The models that found their way onto Dell laptops, on the other hand, made me carry a mouse.
  • I had a 3D ring based system 15 years ago. I hope this is better

  • ground floor opportunity: kickstarter to the pony thimbles, green zombie thimbles, and disposable/recyclable ones, too.
  • by Lumpio- ( 986581 ) on Monday July 07, 2014 @08:34PM (#47404157)
    That's the only thing I can think of every time something like this surfaces. Try holding your arm horizontally in the air for 15 minutes. Bet you get tired before you hit 5. And I use the computer for hours on end.
  • Now, put one on each finger, and we can make virtual keyboards, and have all sorts of fun with the UI. 8 fingers.... 8 bits per byte... we could have each finger represent a bit, on or off. Then without moving the hands or stretching the fingers, each key on the keyboard is represented by which the fingers being lowered or not. Saves the thumbs, one for mouse positioning, the other for enabling mouse mode. In mouse mode, the rest of the fingers would do things like Ctrl-Alt-Shift-Super-Meta on one hand,

    • This was the first thing I thought of when I read this. With a positional accuracy of 1mm (sure to get better) you can 'easily' type away at a virtual keyboard. You could do the above key chording as well for shortcuts or whatever. I would love to lean back in my chair, position my hands comfortably, and be able to type without being tied to a particular format of keyboard on my desk. My current favorite keyboard is a Microsoft 4000, I HATE the non-ergonomic straight line keyboards, and save particular loat
      • I agree.. with all 10 fingers, it might be an overkill. However, modular solutions like 3DTouch will be the future.
      • by pepty ( 1976012 )
        How difficult is it for most people to memorize relative finger positions as opposed to absolute positions on a keyboard? How much lag will users experience transitioning to some other interface each time they get to a character they haven't memorized?
    • 8 bits per byte... we could have each finger represent a bit, on or off.


      Or if you're British, 195.

  • by SpeedBump0619 ( 324581 ) on Monday July 07, 2014 @08:52PM (#47404255)

    Scott Adams predicted this many years ago [], and I still agree with his analysis.

  • by s.petry ( 762400 ) on Monday July 07, 2014 @08:56PM (#47404263)

    3DConexion, formerly Spacware/Spacetech and possibly a few other names have had advance 3D positioning devices since forever ago, replacing buttons and dials in CAD and CAE software. A thimble is not going to be more or less ergonomic. As with mice, I'm sure it's a personal preference so someone will like it better.The Spaceball however is designed for use with a relaxed hand and does much more than 3D positioning. Like zooming, centering, and what ever else you program the buttons to do

    If you want to take "it's position" as the starting point I'll argue that the ergonomics is less than that of a Spaceball, and more in line with motion detecting devices that again we have had for well over a decade. The thimble won't be as useful in HFE, because open and closed hands are at least as important as position and rotation.

    In short, this is a wheel that's already been invented. I don't see anything "novel" or even better than what we have had already. Maybe if fits a niche I'm not aware of or care much about.

    • by drkim ( 1559875 )

      ... I don't see anything "novel" or even better than what we have had already. Maybe if fits a niche I'm not aware of or care much about.

      I think the advantage here is that this could be used be someone freestanding in a VR space.

      The 3Dconnexion type devices (and I use one) is, like a mouse or keyboard, for someone with a desk surface in front of them.

      • by s.petry ( 762400 )
        Not only are you ignorant to technology we have had in Virtual Reality for nearly 2 decades, you chose not to read (or ignored) my 2nd paragraph. No, the thimble is not better than motion tracking in VR space. It can cheaply track 1 point, but for HFE that is not very useful. Even a thimble on every finger won't be able to track the elbow, head, foot, knee, etc... so has no benefits for VR over anything we already have.
    • In short, this is a wheel that's already been invented. I don't see anything "novel" or even better than what we have had already.

      Then, with all due respect, you don't know what the word "novel" means. Something is novel when it is new or different from what has been done before. This is a thimble that sits on the user's index finger, allowing them to make 3D gestures in space. That's certainly novel compared to the 3DConexion interface, which is a knob with 6 degrees of freedom. They're clearly different devices, and accordingly, this one is novel compared to the Space Navigator.

      Now, maybe what you really meant was that this isn't a

      • by s.petry ( 762400 )
        With all due respect don't accuse me of not understanding a word because you failed to read! Go back and read what I stated regarding motion tracking. My comment was not limited, you chose to ignore content.
  • These 3D whizmos, like for example LEAP motion (incredibly cool), all work great.... for about 20 minutes. Then you put them in the drawer because they require too much muscle coordination and energy to operate. in contrast when you REST your finger on a scroll wheel or REST your hand on a mouse it is not merely not moving, it is at rest in 3 dimensions. it only takes a small effort to move it, but you are not having to run a whole lot of muscles in coordination to keep the hand or finger in a constant p

  • LEAP Motion (Score:5, Interesting)

    by aaronb1138 ( 2035478 ) on Monday July 07, 2014 @09:03PM (#47404285)
    LEAP promised similar things. Logically, their technology should work well, but the execution was piss poor. The trick to getting 3D finger interaction to work will either be higher immersion, such as proportional (to the controller) 3D displays or Occulus Rift style implementations where you can see your hand interacting. Another issue LEAP has is defining the horizontal and vertical ground planes. Their controller would work better if it detected and calibrated to you monitor and activation motions occurred when you touched the screen in many cases.

    3D gesture identification and intent management seems to be a stumbling block so far as well. Seems largely that programmers figured out the hand skeletal structure and then immediately ignored that musculature, tendons, and fine motor control are not the same in all positions and directions.

    Some example dumb hand / finger gestures for 3D control (I see these in LEAP motion software and in proposed hand gesture libraries for similar technology):
      - Triggering a thumb against the side of the index finger - most of the hand moves, especially the index finger (which is typically being keyed off of for cursor position)
      - Triggering by pulling the index finger like a trigger - surprisingly inconsistent when there is no resistive grip or button
      - Holding a splayed out hand(s) horizontally, mid air as a default centered position
      - Keying z-rotation off of a hand pointed at the screen as if one's arm protruded from the chest
      - Expecting the hand to translate mid-air like camera dolly & track.
      - Lots of other ergonomically / kinematically ignorant ideas. I think they modeled everything with those articulated wooden hands for clay sculpture. And no arms.

    Just some things to consider before creating your own 3D motion controller...
    • by chihowa ( 366380 ) *

      Fixating on 'gestures' and reducing the entire scope of the input device to them is where the Leap went wrong. And from the summary: "...respond to a set of pre-programmed gestures...", it's where this one will go wrong, too. Gestures are fine for making limited input devices more powerful (as is the case with trackpads) but there's nothing intuitive or compelling about a 'set of pre-programmed gestures' in itself.

      There's a bunch cool stuff you could do with these sort of input devices, but everyone seems s

      • And from the summary: "...respond to a set of pre-programmed gestures...", it's where this one will go wrong, too.

        I totally agree, even the LEAP allows user-defined gestures. However, for this device "pre-programmed gestures" can always be "re-programmed" as users desire because they are eventually just gestures (not fixed buttons or keys).

      • They also missed out on the concept of thresholds, dead zones, and sensitivity that were standard concepts with joysticks on DOS games 20 years ago. Even the concept of usage based calibration!

        The controller should be able to see the "ground plane" of the monitor and adjust rotationally +/- 5-10 degrees and its position between the user and screen and then calibrate that cursor and hand movement are proportional. It's not even difficult projection math to have a cursor that is perceptually under your fing
    • Thanks for your ideas! Some of these are actually documented in our paper here:
  • Johnny Mnemonic gloves where cool this seems like an mini ver of them.

  • It doesnt lag 3-5 video frames after the movement.

  • by FatLittleMonkey ( 1341387 ) on Tuesday July 08, 2014 @03:27AM (#47405607)

    "Hi, welcome to MIT Tech Review. You've never read our site before, you probably know nothing about our site since you followed a link from an aggregator, and we're blocking you from reading the site now via this pop-over. WOULD YOU LIKE TO SUBSCRIBE?!?!?!?!?!"


    To the best of my knowledge, no.

  • I have used and made software for a device precisely such as this one, with position and direction in space, only that it was not worn but handheld and called a "wand". This was fifteen years ago, '98/'99.

    It was used for control in a CAVE [] environment where you are enclosed in a cube of six computer screens with the perspective adjusted to the position and direction of your 3D glasses.

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