UK scientists are developing technology that aims to help people safely use mobile computers while walking, running or driving.
The research, which centres on using 3D sound and gestures as a data input technique, has been funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and is being carried out at the University of Glasgow.
The project aims to protect users of mobile computing devices such as smartphones or PDAs from perils such as walking into lampposts or under buses while moving along with their eyes glued to a tiny, hard-to-see display.
"We hope to develop interfaces that are truly mobile, allowing users to concentrate on the real world while interacting with their mobile device as naturally as if they were talking to a friend while walking," said Professor Stephen Brewster, an EPSRC advanced research fellow from the University of Glasgow, who is leading the project.
The scientists point out that, if using our eyes is difficult and unsafe in a mobile environment, the next best thing would be using our ears as well as any other movements we might make that did not interfere with the business of walking, running or driving.
The research team found that most previous research into audio interfaces and gesture recognition was based on a static rather than a moving user.
This led Professor Brewster, along with colleagues Dr Rod Murray-Smith, John Williamson and Georgios Marentakis, to develop 'audio-clouds', which they describe as a new way of interacting with computers on the move.
The three-year project started in October 2002. The team sees a number of different additional applications, including using simple gestures like a nod of the head, to change music tracks on your MP3 player.
EPSRC spokeswoman Lucy Brady said: "The innovative aspect of this project is that engineering is being used to explore a new paradigm for interacting with mobile computers, based on 3D sound and gestures, to create interfaces that are powerful, usable and safer."
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