The discussion surrounding the next generation of video game consoles is increasingly focused on the tools used to interact with games, not increased processing power and advanced graphics. Cliff Bleszinski (Gears of War), John Carmack (Doom, Quake), and many other designers have been touting the return of video game headsets, the sorts of virtual reality helmets that were so iconic in the 1990s finally realized as functioning consumer technology. Maybe VR won’t be the end of wearable computing gear when the next round of gaming tech emerges. Microsoft is working on a wristband that might offer the precision that motion controllers never have.
Microsoft Research is working on technology currently called Digits, which lets you use your hands to interact with a computer using precise, fine motor skills rather than a tool like a mouse or a controller. In the video below, a man using digits is plays a fighting game using small finger motions, with his hand obscured from the television.
“Digits, a wrist-worn gloveless sensor developed by Microsoft Research in Cambridge, UK, enables 3D computer interaction in any environment and is practical beyond computer gaming,” reads Microsoft’s description.
While the demo shows that Digits can be used without a direct line of sight between the user and their screen, it would need to be within view of a Kinect according to the developers. The Kinect, with its need for broad motions to interpret player action, was the direct inspiration for Digits. David Kim, the project leader on Digits, told New Scientist (via Eurogamer) that the tech was made to make a less cumbersome motion interface than Kinect currently offers. “We had to use technologies that are small and use less power. It shouldn’t interfere with daily activity, and we wanted to enable continuous interaction.” Put another way, you shouldn’t have to rearrange your furniture to use the device.
Gaming won’t be the only use of Digits, though. It could feasibly replace the mouse entirely. “You can imagine using really subtle gestures [with Digits],” said Thad Starner, the technical lead developing Google’s Project Glass, “I’d use it in class to pull up notes while I’m teaching.”
Digits illuminates what is likely a broad trend in hardware development taking place. Valve has intimated that its new hardware business will be based on reinventing the most common tools in PC gaming, namely the keyboard and mouse. It has also said that it’s experimenting with “wearable computers.”
Digits may well be the place where precise game controls and motion controls finally converge.