Stop Smudging Your iPad: Elliptic Labs' Touch-Free Dock Is Coming [CES 2011]

Elliptic touchless iPad

Elliptic labs is known for its clever, gesture-based touch-free controls for computing. Then the iPad came along like a techno-gift for the team, and they're due to show a prototype dock for iPads at CES that is a sci-fi dream come true.

Gesture-controls, even if they're achieved via clever hacks, have hit the news recently because of Microsoft's fascinating Kinect toy for Xbox 360, but the core tech ideas behind Kinect are far from new. Elliptic Labs, a Norwegian company that specializes in advanced ultrasound sensor tech, has been developing clever touch-free gesture controls for tablet computing purposes for a while. Back in September at the IFA show the labs demonstrated their development platform—shown in action in the video below:

Of course the iPad is an advanced computing tablet with a sophisticated developers kit and powerful skills in communicating with peripherals—a technological gift horse for Elliptic. The company has leaped at the opportunity, and has put together a prototype dock for the iPad that it'll be showing at the upcoming CES show in January (though it's careful to note that the tech can work with other tablet platforms too). The ultrasound sensors create a touch-free gesture zone in-front of and to the sides of the iPad screen, the idea being—according to Elliptic's CEO who spoke to Mobile Mag—is that you use touchless gestures "to operate primary functions of a docked tablet in situations like when you have wet or greasy hands in the kitchen" and in situations when a docked tablet is tricky to reach over and touch.

The tech is exciting, and it's likely to arrive by hook or by crook, even if Elliptic Labs isn't in the forefront. Nokia has, back in 2007, filed a complex patent that covers a gesture-based UI that uses ultrasonic sensors to detect and triangulate a user's hand in front of a tablet-like device in order to react to gesture-based commands. Apple has patented a number of multi-touch and gesture based inventions, of course, and it's also been experimenting with gestures that involve making the frame or bezel of its devices touch-sensitive, and making peripherals like headphones act as gestural input devices. It's even toyed with a "touch-free" gesture interface involving users swiping a finger in front of an iPhone's camera lens.

Touch-free gestures seem like a natural extension of the current multi-touch revolution, and we're certain that they're a big part of the future for many electronic gizmos. We have just one quick caution to make, courtesy of the ever-visionary Douglas Adams:

"For years radios had been operated by means of pressing buttons and turning dials; then as the technology became more sophisticated the controls were made touch-sensitive—you merely had to brush the panels with your fingers; now all you had to do was wave your hand in the general direction of the components and hope. It saved a lot of muscular expenditure, of course, but meant that you had to sit infuriatingly still if you wanted to keep listening to the same program."

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