Control Your Phone Through Your Pants by Touching Yourself

Not content with simply gobbling up patent-sharing deals with consumer tech companies the world over, Microsoft is also at work on some rather interesting tech of their own. We've already seen the incredible Omnitouch, developed in concert with Carnegie Mellon, that promises to turn almost anything into a multi-touch screen and now they're giving us a peek at PocketTouch, a prototype multi-touch capacitive sensor placed on the back of a smartphone. The sensors enable 'eyes free' input directly through the fabric of whatever one is currently using to store their phone and supports a range of gestures from simple strokes to complex numerical or alphabetic commands.

“People already try to interact with a computing device through fabric,” says Scott Saponas, a member of Microsoft's Computational Experiences group. “Think of when you try to reach through your pocket to the slider that silences your phone. We wanted to take a different spin by asking: Can we use a higher-bandwidth touch surface to provide a wider range of actual input?”

One of the biggest challenges developing PocketTouch was orientation. Users very often attempt to manipulate their phones through pockets or bags, but as the devices often shift around (or the the user simply forgets which side faces out), accurate inputting is not likely. This problem was resolved by using an unlock gesture that also determines the plane of coordination and initializes PocketTouch for use. So long as the phone remains stable from that point forward, PocketTouch can work from any direction.

The developers also had to resolve the problem of pattern recognition, which was overcome by adapting existing Windows features. Tests on a variety of fabrics and thicknesses proved successful, and though PocketTouch is far from ready for consumer rollout, it will be shown off at the Association for Computing Machinery Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology, held this week in Santa Barbara, California. A video describing it in greater detail has been posted to YouTube, embedded here for your convenience.