Voice-controlled assistants like Google Home and Alexa are already immensely popular with your broadband customers, but their dominance may be short-lived. Just as your customers prefer their smart-home hub out of sight in a media distribution enclosure, they’ll embrace more subtle modes of management once the technology is available.

Many companies are banking on gesture-based technology becoming the new standard in smart home controls. Exactly how it will function is unknown today, as these companies take a wide range of approaches. Some are working on wearables; others are working on smart home installations that use a variety of sensors.

Wearables

In a paper for Applied Sciences, researchers propose using a wearable camera for a hand-gesture controlled system to control smart home technology. The camera would be mounted on a watch-like device and have a wide-angle lens to detect hand gestures. The researchers developed an algorithm that uses a template to determine how these would be interpreted.

Another promising technology is radar. A Google project called Soli has been working on a chip that uses radar to detect what it calls virtual tool gestures. Using the unlicensed V-band, which is in the 57-64 GHz range, the Soli chip can detect gestures with 2 mm accuracy. The tool gestures mimic actions that are recognizable to human users. They include the turning of a key in a lock, pressing a button, and running a thumb along a slider.

Installed gesture tracking

Another company working on gesture-based smart home tech is Piccolo. Piccolo install cameras in the home that translate gestures into commands by using skeletal tracking. This method is used more for development of virtual reality (VR) technology than smart home technology.

With Piccolo’s system, cameras placed around the home monitor your position and can, for example, detect if you are pointing at an appliance, or make a gesture to fast-forward through a Netflix title.

Gaming and gesture technology

Gaming and smart home development are more intertwined than you might think. The research that goes into hand tracking for VR and augmented reality (AR) development can also be used for smart home applications. Leap Motion, a company that has been working on hand gesture technology since 2013, announced the pending launch of an AR headset that features this development. Leap Motion will make this system, called Project North Star, available to other developers, so it may be in the hands of smart home startups soon.

A couple of former Microsoft engineers have developed an algorithm that can read hand gestures at 1000 frames per second. They were operating under the company name Perceptive IO, according to an article on Next Reality.  

Elliptic Labs is using ultrasound to develop gesture-based systems that include microphones in a device like a smartphone. The company recently showcased a prototype that used gestures to control an Alexa speaker. The technology is primarily for use in mobile devices, but it may also have a huge potential in the smart home market.

Beyond gestures

Wearables that collect data and act on it for the benefit of the resident is in th works. Researchers at Oklahoma State University are working on a project in which wearables, household sensors, and robots form a platform that addresses health issues. For example, sensors in the wearable could detect dehydration, which would trigger the robot to prepare a glass of water and encourage the resident to drink it.

Whether radar, cameras, ultrasound or biological sensors in wearables become the standard, it’s safe to say that smart home technology is still in development. We’re are excited to see where it goes next!