Science & Technology

It’s All in the Wrist

New wearable technology reconstructs the hand in 3-D.

A person's hand modeling a 3-D tracking wristband

FingerTrak has potential applications for virtual reality and human-robot interaction. Courtesy of Cornell University SciFi Lab

Researchers from UW–Madison and Cornell University have created a wristband with a science-fiction superpower: continuously tracking the entire human hand in 3-D. This breakthrough in wearable sensing technology has potential applications for virtual reality and human–robot interaction.

Dubbed FingerTrak, the wristband senses the many positions of the human hand with thermal cameras, each about the size of a pea. It’s the first device that can accurately reconstruct a full hand posture in three dimensions based on the contours of the wrist. The lightweight design allows for free movement — a major advance on previous wrist-mounted cameras that were too bulky for everyday use.

FingerTrak could revolutionize sign-language translation, as well as monitoring disorders that affect fine motor skills.

“How we move our hands and fingers often tells about our health condition,” says Yin Li, an assistant professor at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health who contributed to FingerTrak’s software. “A device like this might be used to better understand how the elderly use their hands in daily life, helping to detect early signs of diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.”

Published in the Winter 2020 issue


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