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Page last updated at 14:49 GMT, Monday, 11 May 2009 15:49 UK

The future of gadget interaction

By Dan Simmons
Reporter, BBC Click

From speech recognition to gesturing, tech companies are finding many different ways for users to interact with devices.

Some of the most forward-looking technologies funded by the European Commission (EC), many still in their experimental stages, were displayed at the Science Beyond Fiction conference in Prague.

The EC is planning to put more cash into such projects. In April it said it would increase its investment in this field from 100m to 170m euros (£89m-£152m) by 2013.

Gaze Control

Dan sees how gaze tracking could be used by car manufacturers

Gaze tracking is well-established and has been used before now by online advertisers who use it to decide the best place to put an advert.

A novel use of the system tracks someone's gaze and brings into focus the area of a video being watched by blurring their peripheral vision.

In the future, the whole image could also be panned left or right as the gaze approaches the edge of the screen.

Film producers are interested in using the system to direct viewers to particular parts within a movie.

However, interacting with software through simply looking will require accurate but unobtrusive eye tracking systems that, so far, remain on the drawing board.

Building recognition

Bulding recognition app
A mobile phone app can be used to identify buildings globally

Ever walked around a city and wondered what building you were looking at? A new application that can be used on most handsets could help.

After taking a picture of the building, this is uploaded and a match sought in a database.

Details of the handset's rough position, measured by either GPS or just the cell phone area someone happens to be in, helps the database cut down the number of possible matches.

The device does not need to face the building head on to work, as it can tell the direction the user is facing.

At the moment each picture takes about 20 seconds to match but researchers are aiming to cut this to one second.

All about the mood

Software designed for cars could soon be able to detect a driver's mood and adapt accordingly.

Project Pasion image
Will feelings ever be on display as someone types on their PC?

Using a camera, the system picks up head movement and facial expression, another infra-red camera spies muscle tension, and a microphone listens out for singing.

In the future, the car seat could detect and adapt to posture, while the steering wheel would monitor how much someone is sweating and their heart rate.

If the driver is alert, the car slips into sports mode. If they are nodding off it will winds down a window to wake them up.

Ferarri and Philips are partnering this project because both like the idea of a car that quietly tunes in to the driver.

Another mood-detecting device on display was a near infra-red camera that can detect facial movements and match them with mood.

Creators Pasion Project hopes the camera may soon be small enough to fit into a laptop, and it could be used to express how someone feels as they type.

For instance, the colour of a font could change to reflect on social networks if they are happy or stressed.

Or an avatar mimicking the outlines of our facial expressions could one day be used in a video call. Italia Telecom is interested in bringing these ideas to market over the next year.

Personal 3D avatars

Avatar of TV presenter Vladimir
An avatar of a real person has been created to read chunks of text

Czech TV presenter Vladimir Koren has had an avatar of himself created by the University of West Bohemia in Czech Republic.

The avatar can read anything he is asked and in a realistic tone of voice.

It works by splitting 13 hours of recorded speech into sections - many lasting less than a tenth of a second.

The algorithm used for stitching it all together knows that syllables sound different depending on where they sit in a word or sentence.

The lip syncing is done by modelling a video of Mr Koren to recreate muscle movements, while his head was scanned using two mirrors from different angles to build a 3D model.

Reflective markers on Vladimir's lips helped an infra-red camera detect how the lower head muscles move to ensure the replica was accurate.

Mind control

Brain orchestra's world premiere

A helmet device by Starlab that claims to interpret our brainwaves has been out on the market for six months.

The device feeds back electro-magnetic stimulation, known as sense-synthesis, to help with sleeping disorders or relieve seizures for those with epilepsy.

A brainwave-reading helmet by G-tec was used in the most science-fictional of the exhibits at the conference which involved a mind-controlled orchestra.

In the demo, some of the musicians concentrate on a bright light looking for a number or letter which then sparks a distinctive brainwave pattern.

The brain activity is detected by electrodes fitted on caps that tell the computer to launch recorded sounds or modify notes in the composition.

Haptic shoes

An insole has been built that gives tactile feedback vibration to recreate walking on a wooden floor, among other surfaces.

When coupled with sound effects from the shoe mounted speakers to created a weirdly real sensation - particularly when recreating the sensation of walking on snow.

There are currently wires sticking out of the shoes, but researchers hope to lose these eventually and offer gamers a more immersive experience.

Any individual, institution, or company based in Europe with a project they believe will further the understanding of how science and technology can be used to bring real benefits to society in the future can apply for funding from the EC.

Your comments...

I think it is depressing to see so much money being channelled into such advanced technologies, many of which seem frankly pointless.

I find it hard to understand why a gamer needs a shoe that makes them feel like they are walking on snow?

I find it hard to understand why someone, no, many people, would dedicate time to developing such a shoe.

I find it hard to understand why a computer needs to read someone's mood and change its font accordingly?
Emma, Scotland

All-in-one PDA, phone and GPS devices will revolutionise daily life. While video phones, 4G, and glasses that also double as video monitors are just around the corner.

I now use my handheld 90%, my desktop computer 10%. Ebooks purchased on my handheld 98%, paperbacks 2%.

I am now addicted to "instant connectivity" and feel very uncomfortable and incomplete without my handheld.
Scott Myatt, New Braunfels, USA

I would like a technology that allows you to do things by just speaking into a microphone.
Hirak Mukherjee, Lancashire

While using touchscreens in new phones may seem futuristic I personally find them much slower and more frustrating to text on than a keypad, plus you end up with a screen covered in fingerprints.

And waving your arms in front of a computer is surely going to take much more effort and be slower in comparison to using a mouse and keyboard.

I can't imagine working like that all day... basically I'm not convinced.
Thomas Calvert, Cambridge

I would like to own a machine which made my breakfast for me and recognized my voice so I could tell it what to cook me.
Yolanda, London

I would like research to enable remote control devices such as TV, radio and hi-fi controllers to speak.

This would help blind and partially sighted people to be more independent.

This would have to be accompanied by enabling on screen display to speak as well.
Charles Crisp, France

Yet more examples of excuses to fund more technology that takes us further from normal ways of dealing with each other.

Currently, instead of just walking up to a friend, you text them, or ring them on a mobile, even though they may be only a score of feet from you.

We need less of this type of technology. And how about another mode of information slowly slipping into the long-forgotten past: reading?

Go on and ask a teen nowadays have they read a good book, and notice the glazed, what-on-earth-do-you-mean stare you get.

Let's have less of this de-humanising technology, and put the money spent developing the technology into really tackling human issues, such as making sure we don't all get swine flu and the like.
John M. Slusser II, Nantwich

I always wanted to see "mood clothing": shirts and pants that change colour like a mood ring.

Also, glow in the dark clothing; including glass beads and other jewellery.

I wonder if it is possible to make glow in the dark mood clothing. Well, anyway, that's the product I would make if I could.
Hilary VH, Honolulu, USA

World premiere of brain orchestra
24 Apr 09 |  Science & Environment
Gaze tracking system for drivers
08 May 09 |  Click
Simulated brain closer to thought
22 Apr 09 |  Science & Environment
Thinking up beautiful music
12 Jun 08 |  Technology

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