Microsoft's muscle-interface patent gets under your skin
Computers get really personal
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.
Bonus points for using bing as your reference... thus 'proving' ms knew about the prior art!
The patents are fairly specific
In that they refer to a method of allowing the user to stick something arbitrarily on his arm, rather than having to carefully tape on sensors in the optimal locations. One of the patents is basically on technology to then have the machine advise him how to move it around to work better, and the other is using this rather fuzzy feedback from arbitrarily placed sensors to identify actual gestures and use those to control the machine.
Sounds like they've solved a pretty hard problem in the area by making the basic research into a usable consumer product, and want to patent that. Fair enough - I had the idea of doing it years ago, but I don't have time or skills to do this sort of development myself, so I welcome companies coming in and doing it for me, and I figure they deserve some reward for that.
I assume apple just plain never thought of it, though if they had developed it it would probably cost an arm *and a leg*, and you would only be able to control things with one finger.
The basics here have been available commercially since the early 80's - look at http://www.utaharm.com - a prosthetic arm controlled in exactly the same way that they describe using a pair of EMG preamplifiers. The EMG amps themselves are available off the shelf at places like http://www.motion-labs.com if they'd done a bing search...