Montreal firm to grab gesture recognition opportunity

A Montreal company is counting on gesture recognition technology (GRT) to change graphical user interface requirements for multimedia applications.

DSI Datotech is planning to launch its Multi-Point TouchPad some time this quarter to 2D and 3D animators, video post-production engineers, sound engineers and special effects experts. The device interprets hand gestures performed by any combination of up to 10 fingers through sensors on the pad. Each gesture is interpreted and mapped to an electronic code, before passing through an interface to control a computer function or electronic appliance.

DSI was founded in 1986 but only entered the technology market a few years ago after acquiring patents for a rudimentary GRT design. DSI chairman Ed Pardiak said an inventor had come up with a three-finger recognition system to help his wife, who is dyslexic. The initial TouchPad featured 11 switches in a tick-tack-toe configuration with two extra switches. By using three combinations of three fingers, he could reconstruct language and speak through a synthesizer at 60 words a minute. DSI has since spent several years enhancing the technology to support more fingers.

“It was a very steep learning curve,” he said. “We decided it would be lot wiser to just move to a complete full-hand gesture recognition system on a much more elegant sensor.”

DSI’s Multi-Point TouchPad attempts to reconstruct phonyms, the sound pieces that make up language. There are 54 phonyms, 44 of which are used in English. Taking out accents leaves the user with what Pardiak refers to as “broadcasters’ English.”

“Gesture is a natural form of language. It is utilized within every culture on the planet or a greater or lesser extent,” said Pardiak.

Multimedia designers could potentially use the Multi-Point TouchPad technology to replicate tasks that require a keyboard and mouse today. If you wanted to make a cutting motion, for instance, you would take your forefinger and squeeze it with your thumb. “If you’re doing a specific application where you have a lot of cutting and pasting, them you could have gestures like that,” said Paul Higgins, DSI’s vice-president of corporate development. “Since you’re using more of your hand it’s much more natural; it’s less tiring. The trick is to just choose the right gesture set, which is pretty small. We’re capable of doing entire languages with gestures, but in the marketing applications we’re looking at we’d be using five, maybe 10 gestures often.”

Robert Rioux, a computer graphics artist who uses Alias/Wavefront’s Maya Modeler at Meteor Studios in Montreal, tested the Multi-Point when it was in beta. “I think it has some potential, but it’s something you would have to get used to. It’s a completely different interface,” he said. “For now, it works the way we do it with a three-button mouse.”

DSI is also looking at markets beyond multimedia and CAD/CAM, Higgins said, adding that the increased graphics capability on many Web sites make open up many opportunities for its technology.

“The world is going to have a lot of 3D-type images. Navigation through that is very difficult with just a mouse and a keyboard,” he said.

Since the Multi-Point TouchPad can also track pressure, it could also potentially be used in biometrics applications or to prove the validity of digital signatures, Higgins said.

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