NTT DoCoMo invention makes remote control a snap

NTT DoCoMo researcher Masaaki Fukumoto has developed a system that allows users to issue simple commands via remote control by tapping their fingers together.

The system is based on a wrist-worn sensor that picks up small shocks traveling along the bones in the hand to the wrist when users tap their fingers, said Fukumoto, an executive research engineer at NTT DoCoMo's biological signal processing laboratories and inventor of the system. The researcher has been demonstrating the prototype at the Wireless Japan 2004 exhibition, which began in Tokyo on Wednesday and runs until Friday at the Tokyo Big Sight exhibition center.

The wrist unit picks up the shocks via an embedded chip, called a UbiChip, and can differentiate between around 20 or 30 commands tapped out in a series of fast and slow taps, something like Morse code. In the demonstration, the unit translates these commands into various remote control pulses to accomplish tasks such as switching on or off lights.

Fukumoto is the same researcher who developed NTT DoCoMo's so-called "bone-phone." This prototype, unveiled five years ago, works by sending the audio of a telephone call as a series of vibrations from a wrist-worn unit down to the user's finger. To hear the audio, users have to put a finger in their ears for the vibrations to complete their journey. They could also answer the phone by tapping their fingers together.

"That phone was me," Fukumoto said with a smile when asked about it. "Back then, all the processing was analog but now we've reduced it all to one chip."

Development of the technology is continuing, according to Fukumoto. His research, he said, is not aimed at coming up with new products but rather at developing new interface technologies that might one day be useful for mobile communications products or technologies.

Don't expect to see the wrist controller any time soon.

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Martyn Williams

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