‘GoldFinger’ smart gloves read hand gestures, harvest power from moving fingers

A high-tech glove built by US and Italian engineers can translate hand gestures to commands for a computer, and use those same finger movements to power itself.

The device has electronics sewn into the fabric that generate electricity when they are bent or flexed. Materials engineers envision these so-called “piezoelectric” threads woven into smart clothes could keep the body cool or warm, or measure vitals signs, by harvesting power from movement.

The team calls the device “GoldFinger.” It’s no reference to the villain in the 1964 James Bond flick, rather, they draw a comparison to the tech tools that Tom Cruise and his co-stars use in the sci-fi hit Minority Report, in scenes in which Cruise and co-stars navigate data on computer terminals simply by swiping the air with the gloved hands.

The researchers who built the device includes MIT mechanical engineering professor Sang-Gook Kim and sibling duo Daniele and Giorgio De Pasquale from Politecnico di Torino in Turin, Italy.

“The use of a glove requires comfort and reliability and these requirements are not less important than the increased energetic autonomy of the device,” Giorgio De Pasquale told IEEE Spectrum, which first described the device.

The group presented the work at the PowerMEMS conference in Boston this month, demonstrating that the glove did in fact generate power that topped off the battery in the device. Though these movements wouldn’t keep the device running by themselves, it’s a first demonstration of a way to extend its battery life incrementally. The battery in the prototype is contained in a package the size of a large postage stamp and can currently power the device for 104 hours.

Following mouse clicks and finger taps on a screen, voice recognition and gestures from your hand (similar to commands to the Xbox and Kinect gaming consoles) are the next frontier in engaging with your devices.

Other pilot projects that read and understand air twirls of the fingers exist. Among the spookier of the lot is the “Sixth Sense” project created by a then-graduate student, Pranav Mistry, at the MIT Media Lab. (Mistry is now global vice president at Samsung Electronics.)

The De Pasquales and Kim say their design is unique in how it is built to generate its own power.

Nidhi Subbaraman writes about science and research. Email her at [email protected]
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