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The Future is Now: Touch-free Touchscreens Coming Soon

Is the future touchless
March 1, 2012

Without doubt, the advent of touchscreen technology was one the greatest innovations of the last decade. By making device interaction simple and natural, touchscreens revolutionized mobile technology, and, more importantly, our attitude towards tech. Suddenly, our mobile devices became friendly, accessible, and fun.

But touchscreens have big one problem – touch is not always desirable or possible. Just think about how uncomfortable it is to answer your phone while cooking, fixing your bike, or gardening. Sure, Gorilla glass is tough and it can take just about anything you throw at it, but I bet you don’t like to touch your prized new Galaxy S2 when your hands are greasy. And in the winter, how many times did you have to take off your comfy gloves to answer a text? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could control your tablet or smartphone without touching that beautiful screen?

One solution to the problem is to fit the device with a camera that tracks your gestures, like the eyeSight Android app does. But such a setup has shortcomings – it’s complicated, doesn’t work at night, and is imprecise. Another idea is to use voice recognition, but that doesn’t work in all conditions.

Enter Noalia.

Noalia brings touch-free, camera-free gesture recognition to capacitive touchscreens

In case you didn’t hear about Noalia, don’t beat yourself to hard. They are a small French engineering company that specializes in user interfaces for industrial appliances. But one of their products has the chance to hit it big, and possibly become part of every tablet and smartphone in five years from now.

Noalia’s breakthrough is finding a way to detect the motion of your fingers without using a complex camera setup. Instead, Noalia’s Aramis platform detects the electrostatic energy that flows around your hand, and translates it into a signal that your phone can understand. So, instead of touching your device to go through a picture gallery, you can just make the swipe motion in the air.

As Phandroid reports, Noalia managed to cram their patented NEMOPSYS 3D technology (which powers the Aramis device) into a controller board, which, in the future, might be fitted into a tablet or smartphone. The French are showcasing the technology at MWC in Barcelona, where Phandroid caught it on video.

As you can see, the technology still needs a lot of work. But even in this rudimentary stage, it’s easy to see how intuitive and useful touch-free control can be. Not only does the device detect the 2D motion of your fingers, but it can also detect the distance. This means that future tablet manufacturers will be able to add an extra-layer of control to their devices. For instance, move your hand closer to the screen and you zoom in on an image; move further, you zoom out. But that’s just one idea. Adding the third dimension to a 2D touchscreen will open a world of new amazing possibilities.

Here’s another cool video, which shows even better what NEMOPSYS 3D is capable of:

For the NEMOPSYS 3D technology to be feasible, it will need to fit into a small device, without draining its battery. For now, the devices showed in the videos are quite bulky, but hopefully those are just improvised platforms to support the touchscreen. Apple has a somehow similar patent, but hey, it’s not like Apple is known for stifling innovation with lawsuits, right?

Let’s hope that Noalia will be able to develop their innovation and give us smarter interfaces, not to mention less unsightly grease smudges on our beloved gadgets.