It looks like University of Washington doctoral student Bryce Kellogg is practicing martial arts punches or sending secret signals to another student across a lab in the university's Paul Allen Computer Science Center.
But what Kellogg is actually doing is showing off hand gestures that can control music on smartphones, zoom in on tablet photographs, or call up maps or email on a mobile device.
We have all these tons of connected devices around us that we want to be able to interact with, said Kellogg.
A new technology that Kellogg helped develop may give users a new way of providing that interactivity. Kellogg, fellow engineering doctoral student Vamsi Talla and UW professor Shyam Gollakota have built a gesture recognition system that can control a wide range of devices.
The AllSee system uses wireless signals for both power and gesture recognition. Sensors in the systemread changes in the signals created by the gestures, and transforms them into specific commands. The UW team's prototype is now using TV and RFID (radio frequency identification) signals for showing off AllSee's capabilities, but they hope one day to use WiFi signals as a source of power.
Currently, the Samsung Galaxy G4 smartphone lets users wave their hand over the device to scroll through screens. But that method uses a lot of battery power and only works when you have the smartphone in front of you. AllSee can be used for devices in coat pockets, backpacks or otherwise hidden from view.
The great thing about AllSee is that it lets you recognize gestures using almost no power at all, Kellogg said.
The system is patent pending and has drawn the attention of a few device manufacturers who are no doubt attracted to AllSee's low cost and energy efficiency.
It's extremely inexpensive to build, Kellogg said. A lot of current gesture recognition techniques use cameras and whatever, and we're essentially just an antenna and a couple of passive components which are very cheap.
The UW team will present its findings in April at the Symposium on Networked Systems Design and Implementation in Seattle.
The team is also working on trying to build a smaller prototype. Once that miniaturization is accomplished, AllSee could end up powering the so-called Internet of Things - household electronic appliances and systems that can be connected to the web and controlled via gesture, not just voice command.
It's a really natural way to interact with things, Kellogg said, so if I want to change channels on my TV, I don't want to keep saying, 'next channel, next channel, next channel.' I can just swipe at the TV.
We are looking at how we can provide power, data, sensing and everything wirelessly, Talla added, and if that's possible, you can have a world where you can control these devices everywhere, and that's what drives our labs.