Tech firms are racing to come up with new "gesture-swipe" keyboards that let you wave your hands and around in the air to control your keyboard, type messages and manipulate data without sitting down and typing in one letter at a time. Based in part on sensor technology built for the Microsoft Kinect games, researchers say these ideas will help doctors use a computer while doing surgery, for example, or just drive a video game race car with an imaginary steering wheel.
Microsoft Research has already come up with a prototype keyboard "sensing rich and expressive motion gestures performed both on and directly above the device," according to a research paper presented at the Computer Human Interaction 2014 conference this week in Toronto.
It lets you pinch and swipe just like a smartphone screen a few inches above the keyboard, using built-in infrared sensors to detect movement.
Last year, rival Apple patented a new iPhone user interface that will allow you to swipe individual keys instead of typing in letters.
But others want to go further. Danish researchers have come up with a software called Vulture that allows the user to actually "draw" words on a virtual keyboard floating in front of them, rather than resting on a desk.
"You can see in front of you what you are actually doing," said Anders Markussen, a doctoral student at the University of Copehnagen, who also is presenting his work at CHI2014. "If you want to write the word test, you move your hand to the location where the 'T' is, then draw the shape that crosses the remaining letters 'E'-'S'-'T', then release your pinch. The shape would be recognized as the word test."
Markussen said volunteers in his experiments using Vulture got close to 30 words per minute, which is slower than typing but pretty good for mid-air gesturing. See the video below.