What if you could control VR objects with your own bare hands

Augmented reality is nothing really new, although it isn’t widespread yet. Think of it as using a camera on a phone to capture the real world, and using the screen of the phone to insert a virtual object into that reality. Normally, you’d manipulate that object with the touchscreen. Bo-ring. What if you could just use your hands instead?

Researchers at Brown University are doing that. You put your hands in front of the camera, the phone recognizes your hands, and displays you controlling the virtual objects on the screen.

Which coffee cup is real? Neither!

Technically, it’s a little more complex than that: They’re using a small infrared sensor mounted on the back of a phone. The infrared tracks the position of people’s hands while the software locates the virtual objects. Together, this lets users pick objects up, turn them, stack them or drop them.

The system is called Portal-ble, and possible uses could be for games, artists, or other experiments with augmented reality. This is the thing about research: sometimes you have to make an interface possible in order for people to explore the best uses for it.

The team from Brown are going to present it at ACM UIST 2019 (User Interface Software and Technology) in New Orleans. The source code for Android is available now, source for iPhone is said to follow soon.

“AR is going to be a great new mode of interaction,” said Jeff Huang, an assistant professor of computer science at Brown who developed the system with his students. “We wanted to make something that made AR portable so that people could use anywhere without any bulky headsets. We also wanted people to be able to interact with the virtual world in a natural way using their hands.”

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