Window shopping goes high tech with gesture recognition

The Fraunhofer Institute's interactive shop window lets people use gestures to learn more about products on display

Fraunhofer's motion tracking sensor has been under development for a decade, long before the Microsoft Kinect sensor--which can also be used--debuted.

Fraunhofer's motion tracking sensor has been under development for a decade, long before the Microsoft Kinect sensor--which can also be used--debuted.

German researchers have given a new meaning to window shopping. At the IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin the Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute showed a prototype that lets shoppers learn more about what's in a store display window when the store is closed.

Called the Interactive Shop Window the system consists of a flat screen monitor and a motion tracker positioned behind the glass of a store's front window.

When window-shoppers stand in front of the window, they can point at a product they want. Then the display box holding the product will light up and information for the object will be shown on the screen. Window-shoppers can then view it in different colors or sizes, or learn more about it.

The system is controlled by the window-shopper's gestures, which are captured using motion tracking technology that the Fraunhofer team has been working on for a decade.

The institute is looking for partners to further the technology and one day change the look of department store windows.

"We're searching for partners in the industry to bring it as a new product," said Paul Chojacki, in charge of interactive media for the Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute. "We have some bigger companies in Germany who are interested in this," he said, although he didn't say which ones.

Before the system is ready for a commercial debut there are still some bugs that need to be worked out. For example, the pointer will sometimes jump around the screen, or something will be selected that wasn't intended.

Chojacki said one of the biggest challenges was making sure the motion tracking system filtered out reflections on the store front glass.

"The window is a problem for us because it's reflecting light and pictures," he said. "We found a solution that is working very well right now."

Another problem for the team will be teaching passers by how to use the system because it isn't all that intuitive. Users have to stand in exactly the right spot and make gestures in a defined area for the motion tracker to see them.

Chojacki said that the Fraunhofer motion tracker could be replaced by a Microsoft Kinect sensor, but that theirs is specially tailored for the project.

Fraunhofer has been working on its motion tracker well before the Kinect premiered, and has shown it at previous IFA shows.

In 2008 it was used in the iPointPresenter project, which allowed users to control a mouse cursor using gestures. At the time it could only track objects on a 2D plane.

In 2009 the team upgraded the system for the iPoint3D project that recognized gestures on the X, Y and Z axes. Chojacki was also involved with iPoint3D.

Nick Barber covers general technology news in both text and video for IDG News Service. E-mail him at Nick_Barber@idg.com and follow him on Twitter at @nickjb.

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