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Friday, September 5, 2008

How to change channel by simply waving your hand:

The new webcam that could kill off remote controls

By Andrew Levy

It may be called 'gesture interface technology' but it is as simple as waving your hand.

In fact it is waving your hand - and could mean the days of the television remote control (and the days of arguing over who has it) are over.

Scientists at a Toshiba research laboratory in Cambridge have created the technology that allows viewers to operate their TV purely by gestures.

Catherine Breslin, 22 demonstrates the hand signal which allows you to pause TV

Futuristic: Engineer Catherine Breslin's hand signal pauses the new TV

For example, raising a hand in a 'stop' sign will pause the action on TV. Flapping a hand up or down can raise or lower the volume.

And the technology could be customised to suit individuals.

Touching your right ear, for instance, would increase volume, while touching your left ear would lower it. The software could also recognise viewers as they walk into a room and switch automatically to their favourite channel - opening a whole new area for family disputes.

Catherine Breslin, 22 demonstrates the hand signal which allows you to move the on screen mouse

No hassle: Dr Breslin demonstrates how to use the TV 's computer mouse'

Toshiba said its gesture recognition system was already extremely accurate as it responded to the shape, colour and motion of hands.

But, of course, there are always potential hazards, such as the TV misinterpreting a stretch or a sneeze.

But Toshiba is working on it. It said its technology, which can also be used with PCs, is being finetuned to differentiate between someone making a control gesture and an unthinking movement.

Enlarge how it works

how it works

The system went on show in Berlin this week and could be on the market within five years.

It follows similar work at the University of Wollongong, Australia, last year and brings the world of futuristic Hollywood films a step nearer.

For example, Tom Cruise's character in the thriller Minority Report uses hand movements to manipulate images - such as magnifying them - on a computer screen.

Dr Kate Knill, who works at the Toshiba laboratory, said: ' Technology is going to become more and more accessible and much less scary for everyday users.'

Tom Cruise in Minority Report

Inspired: The TV echoes one used by Tom Cruise in futuristic film Minority Report