New computer interface: Blow on the screen

Georgia Tech researchers have created a hands-free user interface that uses a microphone to tell where on a computer screen a person is blowing.

Different sound frequencies indicate where on the screen a user is blowing. Georgia Tech

Perhaps huffing at your computer might get you somewhere if research at the Georgia Institute of Technology comes to fruition.

Shwetak Patel and Gregory Abowd from Georgia Tech have published a paper that describes how to use a computer microphone to determine where on a screen a person is blowing. The technique, which they call BLUI for Blowable and Localized User Interaction, can distinguish between the different sounds air makes depending on where the breath is directed.

"BLUI supports blowing at a laptop or computer screen to directly control specific parts of an interactive application, such as blowing at a button to activate it," the researchers said in their paper (click for PDF). The technique requires a period of "training" to calibrate the system--blowing on each region of the screen for 3 to 5 seconds.

The hands-free user interface approach could be useful for situations where a person's hands are busy, or for people who can't control computers with their hands or arms in situations where speech control is impractical. Although speech "is reasonable for complicated or command-based tasks, it is not well-suited for direct, low-level controls such as scrolling, button pressing, or selection," the researchers said.

Of course, the resolution isn't as fine as a mouse pointer.

The accuracy was 100 percent when dividing a laptop screen in to a nine-rectangle region. It dropped to 96 percent for 16 regions, 80 percent for 25 regions, and 62 percent for 36 regions.

The technique also could be used for games such as a basic one in which users blow out virtual candles, shown in the YouTube video above.

(Via John Nack.)

About the author

Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and covers browsers, Web development, digital photography and new technology. In the past he has been CNET's beat reporter for Google, Yahoo, Linux, open-source software, servers and supercomputers. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces.

 

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