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Microsoft Input Devices Software Technology

Microsoft Creates Kinect-Like System Using Laptop Speaker & Microphone 169

Posted by samzenpus
from the echo-of-the-future dept.
MrSeb writes "Microsoft Research, working with the University of Washington, has developed a Kinect-like system that uses your computer's built-in microphone and speakers to provide object detection and gesture recognition, much in the same way that a submarine uses sonar. Called SoundWave, the new technology uses the Doppler effect to detect any movements and gestures in the proximity of a computer. In the case of SoundWave, your computer's built-in speaker is used to emit ultrasonic (18-22KHz) sound waves, which change frequency depending on where your hand (or body) is in relation to the computer. This change in frequency is measured by your computer's built-in microphone, and then some fairly complex software works out your motion/gesture. The obvious advantage of SoundWave over a product like Kinect is that it uses existing, commodity hardware; it could effectively equip every modern laptop with a gesture-sensing interface. The Microsoft Research team is reporting a 90-100% accuracy rate for SoundWave, even in noisy environments."
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Microsoft Creates Kinect-Like System Using Laptop Speaker & Microphone

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  • It sounds interesting, as long as there is no background noise, you are alone in the room with the system and the system itself isn't generating any noises (fans? DVD access? music or sound effects?).
    • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Monday May 07, 2012 @11:05AM (#39915517) Homepage

      Why is my dog barking at my laptop?

      • Why is my dog barking at my laptop?

        Barking may not be as big a problem as wagging his tail, scratching an itch, etc.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Why is my dog barking at my laptop?

        Because that is not really your laptop, you moron! It is a polymimetic-type Terminator! Your dog is trying to warn you! Run for your life!

        • by Baloroth (2370816)
          Actually, given it's called "SoundWave", more likely a Transformer (a Decepticon, to be specific). Terminators cannot replicate advanced machine functions such as a computer display, while a Transformer can.
      • And it won't merely affect dogs. Who says that this might not subconsiously affect humans too? Even if you do not consciously hear the near ultrasound, it might still affect you in indirect ways....
        • by arth1 (260657) on Monday May 07, 2012 @11:38AM (#39915943) Homepage Journal

          Some people also hear sounds in the 18-22 kHz range. Especially 18-20 kHz, which is inside the "normal" hearing range for young people.

          Most PC speakers and many sound cards are unable to produce reliable sound in those ranges anyhow, so it might be moot - it likely won't annoy you because it won't work.

          • by nurb432 (527695)

            My thoughts exactly, what average person's laptop can hit 20k? I'm pretty sure mine cant.

            Now, a cheap little usb transducer stuck to your monitor might be a reliable idea....

        • by poity (465672)

          Many electronic components emit ultrasound. Who's to say you're not already zombified by your overhead CFL bulbs?

        • by s.petry (762400)

          Just wait till the reports regarding how prolonged exposure to this frequency causes earlobe cancer.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It all depends on the frequency used for the "sonar" system, the fans, HDD, background noise shouldn't contain a signifinact amount of noise at 20kHz so it shouldn't be a problem

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      From the article "The Microsoft Research team is reporting a 90-100% accuracy rate for SoundWave, even in noisy environments."

      • by 0123456 (636235)

        Getting it wrong one time in ten doesn't sound terribly good to me.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by ifrag (984323)
          Perhaps Microsoft could combine this as a double check for Kinect, to make Kinect actually work.
      • by macs4all (973270)

        From the article "The Microsoft Research team is reporting a 90-100% accuracy rate for SoundWave, even in noisy environments."

        Now, let's turn on a room fan, or have the HVAC system start blowing the air around...

        Plus, as I said earlier, 18-22 KHz is definitely audible for the vast majority of the young gamers they are targeting, so I declare this an EPIC fail...

        • From the article "The Microsoft Research team is reporting a 90-100% accuracy rate for SoundWave, even in noisy environments."

          Now, let's turn on a room fan, or have the HVAC system start blowing the air around...

          Plus, as I said earlier, 18-22 KHz is definitely audible for the vast majority of the young gamers they are targeting, so I declare this an EPIC fail...

          I ain't no spring chicken, but I can hear that shit.
          The most annoying sound in the world wasn't featured in Dumb & Dumber, it's a dozen disposable cameras with fully-charged flash capacitors. Thankfully, people rarely use disposable cameras today.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Good job reading the summary:
      "The Microsoft Research team is reporting a 90-100% accuracy rate for SoundWave, even in noisy environments."

      • by kanto (1851816)

        Good job reading the summary: "The Microsoft Research team is reporting a 90-100% accuracy rate for SoundWave, even in noisy environments."

        That's just with their test gesture, the patented "Hand Clap".

    • by gtall (79522) on Monday May 07, 2012 @11:26AM (#39915811)

      Computer: Hi there, I see you are giving me the middle finger salute. Would you like help with:

            1. filing out your Windows registration

            2. sending us money to unlock exciting new features of Windows

            3. allowing all your warnings and alerts to use the voice chip

    • by El Royo (907295)
      "Sounds interesting"... I see what you did there...
    • by macs4all (973270) on Monday May 07, 2012 @12:03PM (#39916241)

      It sounds interesting, as long as there is no background noise, you are alone in the room with the system and the system itself isn't generating any noises (fans? DVD access? music or sound effects?).

      And you don't have a fan operating in the room, and aren't less than 25 years old (or 40 if female) (most males can hear 18-22 KHz up to about that age, and females until about age 40-50), so that you can't stand to be in the same room with it.

  • by h4rr4r (612664) on Monday May 07, 2012 @11:07AM (#39915549)

    How is this Ultrasonic? Humans can hear up to 20KHz. So only the upper end of this is going to be above human hearing. Neat idea but I don't think I could tolerate the high pitch whine all day. Sounds like MS needs to hire some younger blood.

    • by afidel (530433)
      More to the point many people under 21 or so can hear up to 22kHz, and a rare few can hear up to 24kHz (I'm actually very rare in that I can hear 23kHz at -3dB at age 33).
    • by n5vb (587569)

      Yeah, if it's 18 kHz, I'll most likely be able to hear it at least from my right ear. (One reason I'm very glad LCD has displaced CRT TV's is that damn flyback whine.)

      Then again, how much amplitude are you going to get out of a randomly chosen voice coil speaker at frequencies above 20kHz?

      • by X0563511 (793323)

        It's not always the transformer. Sometimes it's the coil windings that steer the beam that vibrate.

      • by macs4all (973270)

        Yeah, if it's 18 kHz, I'll most likely be able to hear it at least from my right ear. (One reason I'm very glad LCD has displaced CRT TV's is that damn flyback whine.)

        Then again, how much amplitude are you going to get out of a randomly chosen voice coil speaker at frequencies above 20kHz?

        Flyback whine is 15,750 Hz in the U.S. When I was a kid, I could clearly hear that from upstairs in my bedroom with the TV downstairs in the livingroom.

        Teenagers (at least those who haven't cooked their hearing yet) will want to VOMIT when they sit down in front of this. Mark my words: As soon as they start testing this in front of people younger than the Project Team, this will die the death it so richly deserves...

        • by djdanlib (732853)

          Agreed, this is going to be totally obnoxious when used in the vicinity of anyone whose hearing is reasonably good.

    • by mspohr (589790)

      As you get older, you hearing range drops from the "ideal" of 20K.
      I just took this hearing test and discovered that my hearing is reduced to about 8K-10K max.
      http://www.noiseaddicts.com/2009/03/can-you-hear-this-hearing-test/ [noiseaddicts.com]

      Too many rock concerts when I was young and foolish?

  • In my youth I could hear 18kHz. So is this only for older / deaf users?

  • I don't have one, but I thought the kinect did 2D very accurately plus a crude 3rd D based on image size so lets call it 2.5 D

    I don't see how one mic and two speakers does more than 1 D of data. Then again I haven't read the article, maybe they place the whole laptop on an oscillating fan or something as a gimmick. Or is it really using the built in cam and the ultrasound is the gimmick that doesn't really do anything?

    • The Kinect had a bit more going on than that: it both had an ordinary webcam and a projected IR dot field and IR camera for depth calculations(along with an array mic, for noise cancellation and some degree of audio location)...

      In this case, my impression is that the 'sonar' data are intended to be combined with a webcam image, with the 'sonar' providing a cue about what is foreground and what is background, and the webcam providing the detail.
  • by Wattos (2268108) on Monday May 07, 2012 @11:14AM (#39915651)

    Can they patent it? This seems to be pretty much what bats have been doing for centuries

    • by azalin (67640)
      Haven't seen that many century old bat-tops lately, so they probably yes.
      • by azalin (67640)
        My proofreading just reached a new low. Please ignore any "they"s in the parent. You may also take them to your own recycling post.
  • There was some research back in the past, this is a much more precise version, it seems (and btw, why aren't they using also the built-in camera, which is very common in today's laptops?)

    http://hardware.slashdot.org/story/09/10/15/2121214/sonar-software-detects-laptop-user-presence [slashdot.org]
    http://empathicsystems.org/ [empathicsystems.org]

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I wonder how accurate it is if two people are using it at the same time in the same area, e.g. me and my next-seat neighbor on an airliner...

  • Is it a good thing or a bad thing that the first thought I had was of the cell phone sonar from The Dark Knight film?

  • Audible (Score:4, Informative)

    by Prune (557140) on Monday May 07, 2012 @11:23AM (#39915765)
    I'm in the beginning of my 30s and I can still hear 18 kHz (probably due to not listening to loud music, and wearing musicians' ear plugs in loud clubs); younger folks can often hear to around 20 kHz. Calling this ultrasonic is silly. Though the high frequency sensitivity of the ear is lower and these sounds would not be loud, they can easily be annoying, in the same way the old CRT TVs had that annoying 15.7 kHz buzz you can hear when you mute the sound.

    Some here may wonder why, in the day of sound cards with 96 ksamples/s they didn't use a higher output frequency. The problem is the sound card DAC's reconstruction filter starts attenuation significantly below that, and most speakers drop in sensitivity much beyond 20 kHz as well. I would imagine the recording side has similar limitations.
  • So, we got a Kinect, and the biggest downside we noticed is the sheer amount of space it requires to function properly.

    I do not have a small house, but it's a bit tight in our living room. I can't imagine how badly it works in a typical dorm room.

    Does this sound-based mechanism work better with smaller spaces? Has it been tested in dorm rooms and cube farms?

    • You don't even need to read TFA, just look at the photos and you'll know the answer.
      The user seems to have his hands hovering over the keyboard, so yes, it seems to work in much much smaller areas.

      I can't see the video because it uses some unsupported codec, regrettably :(

  • Why is everybody trying to make me wave my hands in the air or lift my forearms off the desk to drag my fingers across a screen?
    • by jader3rd (2222716)

      Why is everybody trying to make me wave my hands in the air or lift my forearms off the desk to drag my fingers across a screen?

      Because that's what the actors do in the all of the futuristic movies.

    • I agree that there's little point on using this for everyday computer usage, it would be really cool for standing in front of classrooms giving presentations, and some other not-so-everyday-usages.

  • SoundWave? (Score:4, Funny)

    by jj00 (599158) on Monday May 07, 2012 @11:34AM (#39915895)
    Further proof that Microsoft has the best code-names and the worst product names.
  • Not sure whom, but I've heard someone did something like this (>5?) years ago.

  • Now if only it could transform your PC into a giant robot interested only in the consumption of all energy in the universe.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    summary, then article: "the frequency changes when the distance changes". wrong.
    the frequency changes when the velocity of the hand/head/whatever changes.
    the article even goes further to describe the train approaching vs train leaving example of Doppler effect, and still the author didn't understand that it's not the distance that matters.

    PS: 18kHz-22kHz is much too low.

  • Kinect detects the position of objects, while this system can only detect movement.

  • All you need to do is combine specific gestures with spoken keywords, and you've got yourself a magically controlled laptop. Required equipment for Hogwarts comp-sci 101 course. If this had come a few years earlier, they could have used it for spell casting in the the Harry Potter PC games.
  • by Max Romantschuk (132276) <max@romantschuk.fi> on Monday May 07, 2012 @11:55AM (#39916147) Homepage

    This could be pretty cool for when you have your hands dirty and don't need your keyboard to be too. Scrolling recipes, for example.

    PS. Que the porn jokes...

  • Can I have my tinfoil hat?

    Doc: No, it wont help.

  • much in the same way that a bat uses echolocation.

    The bats didn't patent it, but you acknowledge their work.

  • "SoundWave has detected that you are trying to masturbate. Shall I redirect your browser to a porn site appropriate for your sexual orientation?"

    Clippy [ohinternet.com]
  • The Microsoft Research team is reporting a 90-100% accuracy rate for SoundWave, even in noisy environments.

    I wonder if they tested the system when multiple of these computers were in the same room.

  • That is well within the normal hearing range of a teenage human.

  • by Bucky24 (1943328) on Monday May 07, 2012 @03:10PM (#39918381)
    I think it's kinda funny that almost every single comment on this article so far has been bitching about the frequency and how people can hear it, and not how amazing this is.
  • Now you'll be able to fap, fap, fap away until you beat level 32. And don't try and tell me someone won't try this.

  • Everything old is new again :-) Admittedly, the mechanism is somewhat more advanced going by TFA (the MS version uses doppler shift rather than triangulation per se, so it can use a single mic) :

    From TFA:
    "In the case of SoundWave, your computerâ(TM)s built-in speaker is used to emit ultrasonic (18-22KHz) sound waves, which change frequency depending on where your hand (or body) is in relation to the computer. This change in frequency is measured by your computerâ(TM)s built-in microphone, and then

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