The watchstrap contains piezoresistive fibers produced on a 3D printer. The wrist movements are transmitted to steer the drone. (Credit: Empa)

It is not new to most of us to control some devices via our hand gestures, but these are typically realized by visual sensors like cameras, accelerometers or gyroscopes. However, the scientists from EMPA, Swiss Materials Science and Technology Research Center, have a new technology for gesture control in a different way. It has integrated into a watch strap to control the drone. It could conceivably also be incorporated into bracelets or perhaps adhesive skin patches.

Led by Dr. Frank Clemens, the team developed the watch strap which contains piezo-resistive fibers produced on a 3D printer. It means that their electrical resistance changes in response to mechanical pressure, such as that which is exerted in the wrist when the hand makes movements such as finger-pointing, or forming a fist. Those changes in resistance – which vary with the particular gesture – are converted into command signals, which are wirelessly transmitted to the device being controlled.

In the case of the drone, waving the hand to left or right causes the aircraft to turn accordingly, while making a fist causes it to land. Plans call for the strap to also identify and assign commands to sequences of gestures, such as closing the hand into a fist twice in succession.

According to Empa, one of the things that makes the technology special is the fact that it can detect even relatively minute, subtle gestures – by contrast, using traditional gesture recognition systems, gestures need to be larger, more well-defined, and within a certain speed range.

The system can be seen in use, in the video below.

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