A new device developed by engineers at the University of California can recognise hand gestures based on electrical signals detected in the forearm, with the technology having the potential to be used in prosthetics.
As well as being used to control prosthetics, the device, which couples wearable biosensors with artificial intelligence (AI), could interact with almost any type of electronic device.
Ali Moin, who helped design the device as a doctoral student in UC Berkeley’s department of electrical engineering and computer sciences, said: “Prosthetics are one important application of this technology, but besides that, it also offers a very intuitive way of communicating with computers.
“Reading hand gestures is one way of improving human-computer interaction. And, while there are other ways of doing that, by, for instance, using cameras and computer vision, this is a good solution that also maintains an individual’s privacy.”
To create the hand gesture recognition system, the team collaborated with Ana Arias, a professor of electrical engineering at UC Berkeley, to design a flexible armband that can read the electrical signals at 64 different points on the forearm. The electrical signals are then fed into an electrical chip, which is programmed with an AI algorithm capable of associating these signal patterns in the forearm with specific hand gestures.
The team succeeded in teaching the algorithm to recognize 21 individual hand gestures, including a thumbs-up, a fist, a flat hand, holding up individual fingers and counting numbers.
Like other AI software, the algorithm has to first learn how electrical signals in the arm correspond with individual hand gestures. To do this, each user has to wear the cuff while making the hand gestures one by one.
However, the new device uses a type of advanced AI called a hyperdimensional computing algorithm, which is capable of updating itself with new information.
Jan Rabaey, professor of electrical engineering at UC Berkeley, said: “Most of these technologies already exist elsewhere, but what’s unique about this device is that it integrates the biosensing, signal processing and interpretation, and artificial intelligence into one system that is relatively small and flexible and has a low power budget.”