Early Yesterday morning Patently Apple posted a granted patent report from Apple covering an optical pattern projection system that could be set up in a desktop like Apple's iMac and allow users in the future to use hand gestures to control aspects of the operating system, or act as an advanced method for logging in. It could be used to control video game play or to quickly stop or start a tune or movie. It could also be used in context with Augmented Reality applications. Apple's Israeli team had pioneered this science of 3D tracking that Microsoft eventually used in their Kinect device.
Later yesterday Patently Mobile discovered that Microsoft was also granted a patent for tracking hand movements that was first filed for last year as a patent application. So it appears that there could be a race on to deliver this feature on future Macs and PCs. What are the chances of both Apple and Microsoft being granted a patent for the same type of technology to achieve the same end result on the same day? While I'm not a mathematician, I'd have to say 1 in million at minimum – and probably more like 1 in 20 million.
Our cover graphic covers Microsoft's patent FIG. 1 which is a schematic diagram of tracking hand pose using an image capture device which is forward facing, upward facing or over the shoulder of a user and FIG. 2 below providing a system overview.
Microsoft notes that Real-time articulated hand tracking from image data has the potential to open up new human-computer interaction scenarios.
Microsoft's invention covers tracking hand or body pose from image data is described, for example, to control a game system, natural user interface or for augmented reality.
In various examples a prediction engine takes a single frame of image data and predicts a distribution over a pose of a hand or body depicted in the image data. In examples, a stochastic optimizer has a pool of candidate poses of the hand or body which it iteratively refines, and samples from the predicted distribution are used to replace some candidate poses in the pool. In some examples a best candidate pose from the pool is selected as the current tracked pose and the selection processes uses a 3D model of the hand or body.
Seven out of the eight Microsoft engineers noted as inventors are from Great Britain and one from Toronto Canada.
With Microsoft receiving a lot of praise from the PC press for bringing multitouch and digital pen usage to their new Surface Studio desktop display back in October, it's possible that Microsoft could be seriously thinking of bringing more whiz-bang technology to the desktop in the next year or two ahead of Apple.
With that said, Apple's Israeli team of engineers appears to be working on this technology almost on a quarterly basis of late and so it's not a given that Microsoft will deliver this feature to the desktop first. But if I had to put my money on who I thought would actually deliver this first to market, then it would be on Microsoft.