Microsoft Seeks Patents on Muscle Control of PCs

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Over the past 18 years, Microsoft's Research Division (MSR), a large group of computer researchers in key locations worldwide, has come up with some interesting and useful technologies, as well as a few that may seem on the wackier side of things.

For instance, MSR was largely responsible for creating Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) Surface tabletop computer, which is now beginning to realize the technology's practical applications in commercial deployments.

Now, among the most recent developments out of MSR are technologies that enable a user to control a computer's interface by merely flexing his or her muscles. Two recently published Microsoft patent applications seem to be pointing the way toward what could become practical developments in that area.

The patent applications were published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) on December 31 -- the applications were filed in March 2009 and in June 2008.

According to a video posted on MSR's site, muscle-computer interaction could be used to let a user interact with a computerized device while his or her hands were full through a technology called "electromyography," or EMG.

As an example of how it might be used, the video shows a person with both hands full able to electronically open the trunk of a car without setting anything down through flexing hand muscles.

One of the two patent applications describes the technology as a "wearable electromyography-based controller [which] provides a physical device, worn by or otherwise attached to a user, that directly senses and decodes electrical signals produced by human muscular activity using surface electromyography (sEMG) sensors. The resulting electrical signals provide a muscle-computer interface for use in controlling or interacting with one or more computing devices or other devices coupled to a computing device."

The other patent application concerns a system to train the software to recognize certain finger movements as commands as well as a training system to enable the software to "learn" which gestures (groups of muscle flexes) are meaningful.

Since its founding in 1991, MSR has played an often-overlooked role in many small, and a few larger, technological innovations.

MSR played a role in developing Microsoft's forthcoming camera-driven games controller, dubbed Natal, which enables users to control games with just the movements of their own bodies. Natal is currently slated to launch commercially in November.

Recently, MSR computer scientists also participated in the development of automated technologies meant to help identify child pornography online. That technology, called PhotoDNA, will be available to Internet service providers through the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.

At the same time, some other technologies may seem to be little less practical -- at least for now -- such as one researcher's efforts to record every minute of his life for later indexing.

Another recent patent application aims to make users' online avatars reflect their human physical conditions online -- so if the user is overweight, the user's avatar could mirror that.

Microsoft rarely comments on patent applications and whether it has plans to commercialize particular inventions. A company spokesperson declined to comment for this article.

Article courtesy of InternetNews.com.

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