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Is this the connected home’s wave of the future?

Mon, 06/10/2013 - 12:44pm
Chris Warner, Executive Editor

Here’s some news that will make couch potatoes everywhere rejoice: Computer scientists at the University of Washington have come up with a sensorless and cameraless way to detect human movements, allowing for gesture control of their electronics and household appliances. We are already beginning to control our home electronics and appliances via the internet, smart phones, and tablet apps, and the Xbox Kinect has been using cameras to recognize its users’ motions.

This new technology (http://www.ecnmag.com/news/2013/06/wi-fi-signals-enable-gesture-recognition-throughout-entire-home), which the researchers call “WiSee”, leverages the slight change in frequency among wireless transmissions between devices that are caused by human movement (the “Doppler-frequency-shift”). A special algorithm detects these shifts, and the technology can recognize when devices aren’t transmitting a signal.

According to the announcement, “The UW researchers built a “smart” receiver device that essentially listens to all of the wireless transmissions coming from devices throughout a home.... A standard Wi-Fi router could be adapted to function as a receiver.” The researchers’ technology will appear at The 19th Annual International Conference on Mobile Computing and Networking.

WiSee can work through walls and doesn’t require line of sight, so it can potentially be used throughout the home. However, the main benefit of WiSee is that it doesn’t require the user to wear sensors. They simply wave or raise their arms and hands to control their device. They can also create their own gesture “password” to securely access the receiver. This would enable consumers to control appliances like ovens and thermostats while simultaneously doing other things, and it could offer those with mobility issues more control over simple at-home tasks.

On the other hand (no pun intended), people will still wish to control their devices when they are away from home, say to turn on the lights or thermostat before they arrive home. The researchers say the technology requires nothing other than a specialized WiFi router, so if users can really seamlessly choose how they want to interface with their appliances – WiSee or remote – and without any false positives or security issues, the University of Washington computer scientists would deserve one more gesture – a high-five!

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