Microsoft’s “Through-Fabric” PocketTouch keeps your hands where we can see them

This one almost feels like one of those April Fool’s Day tech larks that does the rounds but a quick scan of the comprehensive Microsoft Research pages (and our trusty calendar app just to be sure you understand) reveals the company’s new PocketTouch project is no joke.  

The brainchild of Microsoft researchers Scott Saponas Hrvoje Benko and PHD student Chris Harrison PocketTouch covered earlier today by GeekWire involves applying a secondary capacitive sensor to the back of a smartphone (or similar) which is then able to receive “eyes-free multitouch input on the device through fabric giving users the convenience of a rich set of gesture interactions”.

The prototype’s “Through-Fabric Input Sensing” can accommodate simple gestures (such as turning volume down or perhaps cutting an unwanted call off) through to more complex operations including even “full alphanumeric text entry without having to remove the device from a pocket or bag.”

The project being demonstrated at the Association for Computing Machinery’s 24th Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology in California this week was complicated by the difficulty of knowing the orientation of the sight-unseen device at any given moment (we imagine many smartphone and music player users will be able to sympathise with this dilemma).

According to the team an “orientation-defining unlock gesture [can determine] the coordinate plane thus initializing the device for interaction. Once initialized user orientation can be from any direction as long as it’s consistent. PocketTouch then separates purposeful finger strokes from background noise and uses them as input.”

To its creators’ admitted “astonishment” in testing PocketTouch could recognise multistroke letter combinations even through “heavy fleece” and jacket pockets and the system is designed to continually adapt and calibrate according to differing types of fabric surfaces. Members of the same team are also demonstrating OmniTouch this week a wearable projection device designed to turn any surface into a navigable touch interface.