A new motion controlled app could make it even easier to use our phones

A team of computer scientists from ETH Zurich has created a motion controlled app that finally makes it possible to operate a smartphone using gestures. (Just not the kind of gestures you might make when it’s run out of charge for the third time today…)

The controls include pointing, spreading the fingers, pinching, and everyone’s favourite: finger guns. (The latter can switch browser tabs, change a map’s view, or shoot your enemies in a game.)

To use it, you hold the phone in one hand and make a gesture above it. The built-in camera recognises the gesture, reduces this to an outline, and then compares it with the gestures it’s already stored. When it finds a match, it performs the relevant command. If you’re holding your mobile too close or too far from the camera for the app to detect the movement, it tells you to move your hand closer or further away.

Professor Otmar Hilliges and his team presented their concept to industry professionals this week at the User Interface Software and Technology symposium in Hawaii. The app runs thanks to a new algorithm designed by Jie Song, a masters student at the university. Unlike other movement recognition software, it doesn’t use much memory so works well on mobiles. It could also be used for wearables like Google Glass or the Apple Watch in future.

The app isn’t quite ready for market yet, as the scientists wants to perfect it and expand the range of commands possible (they have 16 so far), which is complicated by the fact that the gestures all have to be very distinct from each other. Although learning a new way to operate our devices may not initially seem appealing, Professor Hilliges thinks it will soon become as commonplace as using touchscreens, and that the two technologies will work well together.

Image via ETH Zurich’s video.

Want to read more? If you’re looking to buy a wearable or activity tracker, we’ve found the best wearables to keep you safe, but, if they’re too expensive, here are the best budget wearables and activity trackers for under £70.

If you’re not bothered by wearables at all, but still want help with keeping fit, check out our feature on 10 kitchen gadgets, tools and utensils for healthy living.

Diane Shipley