A patent filing made public last week suggests that Google is working to turn a device's front-facing camera into a motion-input system, allowing consumers to use gestures instead of greasing up the screen with fingerprints. If granted, the company could reportedly take this patent down several avenues, including incorporating the technology into Android itself, saving the tech for Motorola, or hording the patent for use against rivals Apple and Microsoft.
The submission, titled Use camera to augment input for portable electronic device, describes a method of controlling a portable electronic device including an image capturing device. The method comprises of "detecting, via the image capturing device, motions of an object over the image capturing device; determining a type of the detected motions using timing information related to the detected motions, the timing information comprising duration of at least one of the detected motions; and controlling the portable electronic device based on the determined motion type."
The patent indicates that human fingers are making gestures by "single tapping, double tapping, hovering, holding and swiping." These gestures could trigger phone calls, allow users to navigate through photos, music and videos, swipe through the internet and more. The proposed system may even incorporate additional hardware like the microphone, the accelerometer, digital compass and other installed features.
"The system detects, through the image capturing device, motions of user finger over the image capturing device," reads the patent application. "The system determines a pattern of the detected motions using timing information related to the detected motions, and controls the portable electronic device based on the determined pattern. The system also receives inputs from other input devices associated with the portable electronic device, and controls the device based on combination of the determined pattern and the received inputs"
Google's system will use a combination of light and timing to determine what gesture and command is being used. The patent covers both physical touch against the device (as in clicking a virtual mouse button) and movement within the camera's range of sight as long as there is enough contrast in the captured frames to determine movement (meaning gesturing while standing in a dark closet is likely to fail).
"For example, the system may perform detecting and recognizing of the motion events based on illumination levels of images taken by the camera and timing information with regard to the motion events," the patents read. "By calculating the illumination level of an image received from the camera and comparing the illumination level with a predetermined threshold value, the system may determine that a release or a touch event has occurred. If the illumination level falls under the threshold value, an event of touching the camera has occurred."
While the patent uses the word "finger" throughout the filing, it also uses "object" when describing a method of input, possibly indicating that Google has more in mind than simply using finger-based motion input controls on tablets and smartphones. The patent seemingly backs up rumors that Google is currently working on a wearable augmented-reality computer -- aka a cool set of specs -- that features a front-facing camera for tracking hand and finger movements.
Based on the patent filing, it seems as though Google is taking advantage of front-facing cameras and building motion-sensing controls into Android. Google may also branch out and make this a standard feature in Android altogether, offering a native motion-sensing client for Google TV manufacturers. There's also that rumored entertainment system that may also take advantage of gestures as well.