Feature Article

June 05, 2013

Smart Wi-Fi Receiver Enables Gesture Control of Home Systems

If you’re of a certain age, you may have had a childhood fascination with “the Clapper,” an as-seen-on-TV product that allowed you to turn a lamp on and off with just a clap. We have known for some time that speech recognition control of household devices and control systems (“play Bach’s fifth Brandenburg Concerto, please” or “raise the temperature to 70 degrees”) has been on its way, but what about gesture control in the house?

Imagine being able to turn on lights with a wave of your hands, or turn down the stereo volume with a gesture. Keep flapping your hand to skip through music tracks until you find just the one you’re looking for. According to new research, this would not involve a house full of Web cams: just your Wi-Fi signal. University of Washington computer scientists have developed gesture-recognition technology they say can help users control a number of household systems with hand gestures that are recognized by your Wi-Fi devices.

Wi-Fi, of course, permeates your house and can even pass through walls (which is why you can use a WiFi signal from a device located on the other side of the house. The signal is static, however: when you move, either by walking or waving your hands, there is a slight change in the frequency of the wireless signal. Thanks to the Doppler Effect, Wi-Fi receivers can actually “feel” the shift. UW researchers created a new type of “smart” receiver device that “listens” to the Wi-Fi signals coming from all devices in the house, including smartphones, laptops and tablets. A standard Wi-Fi router could be adapted to function as a receiver, said the team.

The University of Washington research team calls the technology “WiSee,” and has submitted their findings to The 19th Annual International Conference on Mobile Computing and Networking, according to UW blogger Michelle Ma.

Edited by Alisen Downey

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