The Magic Finger is a wearable computer

Posted by Shane McGlaun

The stalwart mouse is a classic computer peripheral that just about everyone is familiar with.

Yes, there are many varieties of mice that come in all shapes and sizes whether for gaming or business use, but they are essentially the same input device at the end of the day - designed to interface with a PC in a somewhat limited way. And although the mouse has been around for decades, engineers are always researching ways to improve the human machine interface for computing.

Enter Autodesk, a company perhaps best known for coding software used in engineering and other enterprises. Interestingly, Autodesk and Canadian University researchers are now working on a new type of computer input device that combines a camera capable of detecting surfaces with a camera designed to perceive motion.

Using these two cameras, the researchers were able to create a sensor - the Magic Finger - that can read finger gestures based on which part of your body you swipe. The first camera can detect materials that are programmed into its memory such as clothing or your desktop. The ability to recognize fabric as well as gestures allow finger movements made across pants or a shirt to activate commands for functions like calling a specific person (if the interface is paired with a smartphone/tablet) or composing an e-mail.

Autodesk believes this type of technology is perfect for wearable computing devices such as Google Glasses. Unfortunately, the camera used in the input device isn't accurate enough yet to replace the mouse, with the Magic Finger seeming to be more appropriate for interfacing with wearable computers and controlling computer hardware and other devices when a desktop surface isn't available.

Indeed, the primary idea at this stage is to have a system providing always-available input. Personally, I always look at devices such as this rather dubiously because I don't see most people as willing to connect a sensor to the finger just in case they need to use a smartphone or other device. True, the video above showcases a number of usage scenarios for the magic finger in your day-to-day life, yet the user scenarios certainly doesn't make me believe the average smartphone user would be interested in such a device.