Microsoft PocketTouch research encourages surreptitious stroking

Microsoft could one day encourage Windows Phone owners to stroke their hardware more discretely, if a Microsoft Research project called PocketTouch spawns a commercial system. Intended to allow smartphone users to control their devices without removing them from a pocket or bag, PocketTouch uses a custom capacitive touch sensor that can track gestures through fabric: by coupling it with Microsoft's existing Ink digital handwriting recognition system, and a range of preset movements, incoming calls can be quietly responded to with SMS messages and PMP functionality controlled.

The project is the handiwork of Scott Saponas, Chris Harrison and Hrvoje Benko, who tested their touch sensor case with 25 commonly-used fabrics. Each material has a different impact on the accuracy of the sensor, but with some tweaking PocketTouch proved capable of recognizing a handwritten message traced out by a fingertip one letter at a time.

Software running on the smartphone, meanwhile, takes those input strokes and figures out what the user is trying to do: either trigger a gesture command, or trace a letter. It's made somewhat more complicated when you consider some letters have more than one stroke involved, like "x" or "f". Commercial devices, meanwhile, could use the same capacitive touchscreen as already implemented – with some modifications to suit through-fabric reception – rather than requiring a separate input pad on the back.

Still, if you thought passers-by looked at you oddly while talking to Siri, prepare for some particularly odd glances when they catch sight of you stroking and rubbing your thigh through your trouser pocket. Just as Bluetooth headsets took a while for us to get used to, PocketTouch is likely to face the same.

[via GeekWire]