BUFFALO, N.Y. -- With the tap of a single finger, computer users
soon may be drawn deeper into the virtual world using a new device
developed in the University at Buffalo's Virtual Reality Lab.
UB researchers say their "Fingertip Digitizer," which users wear
on the tip of the index finger, can transfer to the virtual world
the meaning and intent of common hand gestures, such as pointing,
wagging the finger, tapping in the air or other movements that can
be used to direct the actions of an electronic device, much like a
mouse directs the actions of a personal computer, but with greater
What's more, the Fingertip Digitizer can transfer to personal
computers very precise information about the physical
characteristics of an object -- and even can sense the shape and
size of a human gland or tumor -- when a user taps, scratches,
squeezes, strokes or glides a finger over the surface of the
"The gesture-recognition function of this device, in particular,
has great potential for a wide range of applications, from personal
computing to medical diagnostics to computer games," says
Young-Seok Kim, who received his doctoral degree in mechanical
engineering from UB in May. Kim created the Fingertip Digitizer
with Thenkurussi Kesavadas, director of UB's Virtual Reality Lab
and associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering in
the UB School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
According to Kesavadas, the Fingertip Digitizer will help bridge
the gap between what a person knows and what a computer knows.
"With this device a computer, cell phone or computer game could
read human intention more naturally," he explains. "Eventually the
Fingertip Digitizer may be used as a high-end substitute for a
mouse, a keyboard or a joystick."
Kim and Kesavadas will demonstrate a prototype of the Fingertip
Digitizer at the SIGGRAPH2006 technology conference July 30 through
Aug. 3 in Boston. They expect the Fingertip Digitizer and related
software to be market- ready within three years.
The creators of the year's best research innovations in computer
graphics and interactive techniques are invited to SIGGRAPH2006,
the largest conference of its type in the world. For information,
go to http://www.siggraph.org/s2006/main.php?f=conference&p=etech&s=fingertip.
The Fingertip Digitizer is a major enhancement in haptic
technology, an emerging field focused on bringing a sense of touch
to technological devices, according to Kim and Kesavadas. Most
haptic tools on the market are designed as probes and are gripped
like a pen. They can be difficult to manipulate and therefore may
not give a precise representation of the object the user is
The Fingertip Digitizer's design, the researchers explain, is
modeled after the biomechanical properties of a finger, which means
it can more accurately and intuitively sense the physical
properties of an object. To sense touch and movement, the device
uses a force sensor, an accelerometer and a motion tracker -- all
contained in thimble-sized device that fits comfortably on a user's
A real-time, multi-rate data acquisition system used with the
Fingertip Digitizer reads the force feedback exerted by an object
as it is touched by the user. To read hand gestures, the system
tracks the acceleration and location of the fingertip device as the
finger moves and gestures.
A touch screen is not required. With the device attached to the
fingertip, the user simply would gesture in the air as he looks at
a computer screen where a software program or computer game may be
running. In this way, the user can direct the opening or moving of
an electronic file, for example. Using the device as a
computer-game accessory, the user could imitate the squeezing of a
trigger or the stroking of pool cue, for example, say Kim and
A provisional patent application has been filed on the device.
The researchers are developing Touch Painter and Touch Canvas
software to accompany the Fingertip Digitizer. Using this software
and the Fingertip Digitizer, the user will be able to apply digital
paint to a computer-screen canvas with a few flicks or taps of the
For more information about the UB Virtual Reality Lab, go to http://www.vrlab.buffalo.edu.
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive
public university, the largest and most comprehensive campus in the
State University of New York.