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Microchip has announced its patented GestIC technology, which could enable people to use simple hand gestures to control their smartphone. The configurable MGC3130 is the world’s first electrical-field-based 3D gesture controller, and could lead to intuitive user interfaces for a range of devices.

It uses sensors to track changes in the electrical field around the phone instead of a camera, using 90% less power. As its power consumption is only 150 microwatts in its active sensing state, the MGC3130 enables always-on 3D gesture recognition.

GestIc  technology utilizes thin sensing electrodes made of any conductive material to enable invisible integration behind the device’s housing.  This allows for visually appealing industrial designs at very low total system costs.  It also provides 100% surface coverage (eliminating “angle of view” blind spots) and has a detection range of up to 15 cm. Mass production of this technology is expected in April 2013

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Microchip Technology Include a leading provider of microcontroller, analog and Flash-IP solutions, today announced its patented GestIC® technology, which enables the next dimension in intuitive, gesture-based, non-contact user interfaces for a broad range of end products.  The configurable MGC3130 is the world’s first electrical-field (E-field)-based 3D gesture controller, offering low-power, precise, fast and robust hand position tracking with free-space gesture recognition.

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With power consumption as low as 150 microwatts in its active sensing state, the MGC3130 enables always-on 3D gesture recognition—even for battery-powered products where power budgets are extremely tight.  In fact, the MGC3130’s low-power design and variety of configurable power modes provide the lowest power consumption of any 3D sensing technology—up to 90% lower than camera-based gesture systems.

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GestIC technology achieves the exceptionally high gesture-recognition rates required by today’s consumer products through its on-chip library—called the Colibri Suite—of intuitive and natural human gestures.  The Colibri Suite combines a stochastic Hidden Markov model and x/y/z hand-position vectors to provide designers with a reliable set of recognized 3D hand and finger gestures that can be easily employed in their products.  Examples include Wake-Up on Approach, Position Tracking, Flick Gestures, Circle Gestures and Symbol Gestures to perform functions such as on/off, open application, point, click, zoom, scroll, free-space mouseover and many others.  Designers can use this library to get to market quickly and reduce development risks, by simply matching their system commands to Microchip’s extensive set of predetermined and proven gestures.  Additionally, the chip provides developers the flexibility to utilize pre-filtered electrode signals for additional functionality in their applications.

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GestIC technology utilizes thin sensing electrodes made of any conductive material, such as Printed Circuit Board (PCB) traces or a touch sensor’s Indium Tin Oxide (ITO) coating, to enable invisible integration behind the device’s housing.  This allows for visually appealing industrial designs at very low total system costs.  Additionally, the technology provides 100% surface coverage, eliminating “angle of view” blind spots found in other technologies.  With a detection range of up to 15 cm, the MGC3130 is the ideal technology for products designed to be used in close proximity for direct user-to-device interaction.  With its range of configurable, smart features, the MGC3130 uniquely enables the next breakthrough in human-machine-interface design across various industries.  Microchip is already working with input-device and other product manufacturers to implement exciting and efficient user-input controls.  Example applications include keyboards that take advantage of the advanced interface capabilities in the new Windows® 8 operating system, using hovering motions and free-space gesture controls, instead of reaching over to touch a screen.

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The MGC3130 provides a sophisticated, precise and robust 3D gesture-interface and hand-position tracking solution, with features such as:

150 DPI, mouse-like resolution, and a 200 Hz sampling rate to sense even the fastest hand and finger motions

Super-low-noise analog front end for high-accuracy interpretation of electrode sensor inputs

Configurable Auto Wake-Up on Approach at 150 microwatts current consumption, enabling always-on gesture sensing in power-constrained mobile applications

Automated self calibration, for continued high accuracy over a product’s lifetime

32-bit digital signal processing, for real-time processing of x/y/z positional data and the Colibri Suite gesture library

Integrated Flash memory for the easy upgrading of deployed products70-130 kHz E-field with frequency hopping to eliminate RF interference, and resistant to ambient light and sound interferencre.Microchip’s Sabrewing  Single Zone Evaluation Kit (part # DM160217), also announced today, is available now for $169 via any Microchip sales representative.  It enables development with the MGC3130 by providing a selectable electrode size of 5” or 7”.   The Colibri Suite is an extensive library of proven and natural 3D gestures for hands and fingers that is pre-programmed into the MGC3130.

Pricing & Availability

Samples of Microchip’s MGC3130, featuring GestIC technology, are also available today in a 5×5 mm 28-pin QFN package.  Volume production is expected in April 2013, at $2.26 each in high volumes.

This week, Microchip Technology, a large U.S. semiconductor manufacturer, says it is releasing the first controller that uses electrical fields to make 3-D measurements.

The low-power chip makes it possible to interact with mobile devices and a host of other consumer electronics using hand gesture recognition, which today is usually accomplished with camera-based sensors. A key limitation is that it only recognizes motions, such as a hand flick or circular movement, within a six-inch range.

“That’s the biggest drawback,” says University of Washington computing interface researcher Sidhant Gupta. “But I think, still, it’s a pretty big win, especially when compared to a camera system. It’s low-cost and low-power. I can completely see it going into phones.”

Gesture recognition technology has advanced in recent years with efforts to create more-natural user interfaces that go beyond touch screens, keyboards, and mouses (see “What Comes after the Touchscreen?”). Microsoft’s Kinect made 3-D gesture recognition popular for game consoles, for example. But while creative uses of the Kinect have proliferated, the concept hasn’t become mainstream in desktops, laptops, or mobile devices quite yet.

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Today, Microsoft, along with other companies such as Leap Motion and Flutter, are working to improve upon and expand camera-based technology to new markets (see “Leap 3D Out-Kinects Kinect” and “Hold Your Hand Up to Play Some Music”). For smart phones and tablets, Qualcomm’s newest Snapdragon mobile device chip includes gesture recognition abilities, via its camera, but few mobile devices make use of gesture control.

Despite the six-inch distance limitation, the electrical-field controller could have some interesting advantages compared to camera sensors. Power consumption is a key issue for battery-powered devices. Microchip’s controller uses 90 percent less than camera-based gesture systems, the company says, and it can be left always on, so that it could be used to, say, wake up a smart-phone screen from sleep mode when a person’s hand nears.

The controller works by transmitting an electrical signal and then calculating the three-coordinate position of a hand based on the disturbances to the field the hand creates. Whereas many camera systems have “blind spots” for close-up hand gestures and can fail in low light, the Microchip controller works well under these conditions and doesn’t require an external sensor (its sensing electrodes can sit behind a device’s housing).

Perhaps most interesting, the controller could easily go into electronics that don’t have a camera, including car dashboards, keyboards, light switches, or a music docking station. In fact, Microchip Technology already sells components to 70,000 customers that make these products

The controller comes with the ability to recognize 10 predefined gestures, including wake-up on approach, position tracking, and various hand flicks, but it can also be programmed to respond to custom movements. Similar to the programming of voice recognition software, Microchip Technology built the gesture library using algorithms that learned from how different people make the same movements. These gestures can then be translated to functions on a device, such as on/off, open application, point, click, zoom, or scroll.

The precision is about the same as using a mouse, but the system has limitations. It can’t yet distinguish between, say, an open hand and a closed fist, or simultaneous movements of different fingers, an area the company wants to improve.

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Today, less than a year after acquiring the German startup that developed the technology, the company is making a development kit available for sale.

3D gesture breakthrough for tablets and smartphones 

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US-based semiconductor developer Microchip claims its new GestIC MGC3130 chip will prove revolutionary for mobile devices.

Using an electrical field to allow for 3D gesture control, Eric Lawson of Microchip says that while inserting the 5cm x 5cm chip into a smartphone may prove to be a “difficult design job”, use within tablet devices will be “far more straightforward”.

The director of the firm’s human-machine interface division, Fanie Duvenhage, said at its launch that GestIC technology is likely to appear within tablets or e-readers by Christmas 2013.

GestIC uses thin sensing electrodes to enable “invisible integration” behind a device’s design, as marketing manager Lawson puts it, while Duvenhage has invited comparisons with the gesture technology seen in the 2002 movie Minority Report, joking that GestIC is “pretty much in line” with what viewers saw in the movie “except without the ugly gloves” worn by Tom Cruise’s character, John Anderton.

Power

While GestIC is limited to a six-inch range, Sutherland notes that one of the previous complaints about camera-based gesture control is that it has a “blind spot” when users are within a few inches of the sensor. Lawson foresees GestIC being used “in tandem” with camera devices in the near future as well.

An estimated power consumption as low as 150 microwatts in its active sensing state, will allow GestIC to have always-on 3D gesture recognition, and Sutherland is impressed by this element of the product, with the chip said to consume 90 per cent less power than camera-based 3D sensing technology.

“Previously it’s been difficult to achieve gesture control with mobile devices because the environment in which they’re being used is changed rapidly – the phone itself changes its position, the distance from the camera changes and the lighting as well. Then there’s lots of shaking that you have to deal with,” says Sutherland.

“All of those are problems that have to be solved. That’s obviously why are looking at alternatives to the camera sensors.”

Intended to fit a broad range of products –  Microchip’s customer base numbers 70,000 companies and individuals – GestIC is based on technology acquired through the company’s purchase this year of Germany-based Ident Technology.

Recognised gestures will include possibilities such as “wake-up on approach” says Lawson as well as position tracking, flick gestures, circle gestures and symbol gestures, all of which can be applied for turning something on or off, opening an application, as well as pointing, clicking, zooming and scrolling.

Tablets, keyboards and mice and most types of “peripheral interface devices” were pinpointed by Lawson as immediate development areas.

XYZ Interactive enables touchless 3D gesture recognition for mobile, automotive and consumer electronics. Our low-cost, low-power technology delivers touchless interactions such as scrolling through menus, photos, and maps without touching the device. Unlike camera-based solutions, our technology can be always-on and performs right up to the surface of the screen without blind spots. XYZ Interactive is enabling next generation touchless and gesture input for 3D games & user interfaces.

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