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Turn your home into a giant game controller

Research by Microsoft suggests electromagnetic fields in the home could be harnessed to turn your body into an antenna of sorts, and a controller.

Microsoft Research

Ever stand in front of an old TV and move your body around to get better reception? It's a bit like using a Kinect. Apparently, your body and home can become a Kinect of sorts by using electromagnetic fields, according to research at Microsoft and the University of Washington.

The researchers are working on a new system that could turn your home into a big input device. Unlike with the Kinect, however, the player does not have to stand in front of a camera--the controller works with nearly all surfaces and electric appliances in the building.

As outlined in a paper (PDF) presented to the Conference on Human Factors in Computing (CHI 2011) in Vancouver, the researchers' system makes use of electromagnetic noise to detect a person's position or gestures.

Every home is covered with an electromagnetic field created by power lines and some household appliances. In experiments, conductive pads were placed on the necks of subjects to measure the voltages of electromagnetic signals radiating from walls and power lines.

The pad was connected to a data acquisition device and a laptop carried around in backpacks. The researchers found that they were able to turn nearly any surface or electrical device in the home into an interactive input system.

"By examining the noise picked up by the body, we have shown that we can infer the absolute touch position around a light switch or blank wall near electrical wiring within the home with nearly 87 percent accuracy," the researchers write. "For instance, tapping on the wall above and below any light switch could be mapped to increasing and decreasing the thermostat temperature."

Gestures could also control lighting, music players, and video games, though the paper doesn't go into detail about turning your home into a giant controller.

While the monitoring system can be worn on the neck or wrist, researchers are looking into ways to incorporate it into everyday objects such as mobile phones.

Microsoft remains undecided on whether it should apply for a patent for this system. However, the company is considering making this technology open-source, allowing other engineers and developers to create their own uses for the system.

Kevin Koh of Crave Asia contributed to this report.