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Microsoft's muscle-interface patent gets under your skin

Computers get really personal

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Microsoft boffins have applied for patents that could let you control computer-based devices using electronic impulses from your muscles rather than fiddling with your fingers.

The company's research division has devised what it called a "Wearable Electromyography-Based Controller" that reads and understands electrical signals generated by movement in your muscles, to do things like change tracks on your music player or open your computerized car's locked door remotely.

Microsoft has applied for two patents, published by the US Patent and Trademark Office on December 31: one for the controller, and another for a system that recognizes gestures from EMG signals.

Microsoft Research demonstrated the controller in a video here, where users are unable to use their fingers properly to control or even use a device because they are either on the move or have their hands full.

Also, demonstrated is a wicked riff on Guitar Hero played air-guitar style with the player wearing just the controller and dispensing with the standard WiFi handset.

The EMG controller demonstrated uses a series of wires that are stuck Borg-like to the surface of the skin on the forearm. A wireless interface has also been built.

According to Microsoft's patent, the wearable controller decodes electrical signals produced by human muscular activity using surface Electromyography (sEMG) sensors.

"The resulting electrical signals provide a muscle-computer interface for use in controlling or interacting with one or more computing devices or other devices coupled to a computing device," the patent read.

The technology and patent applications, reveled by TechFlash, come from the branch of Microsoft that gave us Surface, the Windows-based table that responds to touch and gesture input from different people simultaneously. The EMG work comes as Microsoft has been building Natal, the company's answer to Nintendo's Wii that dispenses with a handset controller for wireless and motion-based interaction with Xbox games.

You seen see both patents here and here. ®

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