Microsoft Research’s "SoundWave" Technology Is Like Kinect, Without The Need For A Camera

For a while now we’ve talked about how Microsoft Kinect could find its way into many of today’s computers, regardless of whether they are laptops or PCs. We’ve also talked about the potential of Kinect in tablets. The idea of being able to wave your hand around and make things change in the way they work sounds awesome– still having a bulky camera is expensive and using tiny cameras in laptops still isn’t as practical as I might like.

Windows 8 is going to focus on alternative inputs, while still supporting keyboard/mouse, such as touch and Kinect, that much is clear. Metro works great with these inputs, so it was only natural for us to suspect Kinect was part of some bigger plan. What if Kinect is simply a stepping stone in the right direction though?

Imagine doing the things Kinect can do close up on a PC or tablet, but without the need for a camera. This is exactly what Microsoft Research is accomplishing using Microsoft SoundWave technology. Basically, it uses special undetectable frequencies using speakers and a microphone.

When you wave your hands around your PC/tablet a certain way, it generates a disruption in the signal. Software than interprets what the disruption meant and elicits a reaction. So basically its gestures, bat style. As we know, bats pretty much “see” using sound waves, and apparently this Kinect-like solution does the same thing.

Right now it isn’t yet in public use, and might not find its way into a real product until Windows 9, for all we know. Still, it has some pretty big potential to change the way we do things. Of course, there are some real limitations to this system, I’m sure. Right now this is PC-only, and it was all done right next to the monitor.

Could this work with long-range use like the Kinect can? Somehow I doubt the effectiveness of a long-ran version, but that’s not the point. More than likely this could be a cheaper alternative for close-range use, and the standard Kinect Camera technology could remain the dominant force for use in TVs, home theater PCs, and game systems.

For tablets, smartphones, laptops, and desktop though? This could certainly be a great, and more than likely cheaper, alternative.

We also don’t know how the placement of the speaker and microphone works, if they are a standard type or need access to frequencies most common speakers don’t have, etc.

Regardless, it is clear that Microsoft is optimistically moving forward in a world that sees the keyboard and mouse take a secondary position as an input device. Since the first personal computers, keyboards have had a major role. In the late 80s the mouse showed up and added an even easier way to do things.

With touch and motion, the mouse is finally on the brink of near extinction for some uses. The keyboard is protected for now, until dictation software truly becomes top-rate. Talk-to-text has come a long way in the last few years, but it still isn’t ready to knock out the keyboard for things like writing books, reports, and articles like this one.

What do you think about a world without a keyboard and mouse? I’m sure that many users will keep K&M as an option for many more decades, especially on workstations, but on a regular home Internet machine (whether that’s a PC or living room set-top box in the future)? I can see the K&M disappearing for average users rather quickly, which is already happening with the tablet revolution.

As always, share your thoughts below.

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