No touch screen, no keyboard: enter Airwriting

German computer scientists have come up with a glove that allows phone users to write texts in the air.

The Airwriting system, developed at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) involves sensors attached to a glove to record hand movements, with a computer system capturing relevant signals and translating them into text. The work’s won an $81,000 grant from Google.

“Information technology is used any time and anywhere, but smart phones are still working on the basis of virtual keyboards and small screens. However, gestures allow for new types of input – in particular for mobile devices or devices integrated in clothing,” says doctoral student Christoph Amma. “The airwriting glove is used to write letters into air, as if using an invisible board or pad.”

Tiny acceleration sensors and gyroscopes are attached to the thin glove, recording the movements of the hand and transmitting them to a computer system via a wireless connection.

The first job for the computer is to make sure that the user is actually writing. “All movements that are not similar to writing, such as cooking, doing laundry, waving to someone, are ignored. The system runs in the background without interpreting every movement as computer input,” says Amma.

During writing, the system decodes the letters using pattern recognition. For every letter of the alphabet, a statistical model of the characteristic signal pattern is stored. The system can learn individual handwriting styles, and currently has a vocabulary of 8000 words.

Right now, it has a rather poor error rate of 11 percent, although this drops to three percent once it’s adapted to the individual writing style of the individual user.

The team’s now working on refining the system, as well as making it smaller. “This can be achieved with commercial components. An unobtrusive wrist band might be feasible, for example,” says Amma.