Researchers can operate laser tweezers using a Microsoft Kinect.
Scientists and hackers continue to show that Microsoft’s Kinect platform is a boundless source of both creative and useful applications. The latest, a project called HoloHands, seems like something straight out of Minority Report.
David McGloin and his team at Scotland’s University of Dundee perform research in optical manipulation, a field that involves using highly focused laser beams to transport, trap, or rotate small particles, all the way down to the cellular level. These “laser tweezers” were first developed in the ’70s and ’80s and are now used in a number of laboratory applications.
Unfortunately, these laser tweezers are difficult to wield. But McGloin’s team has come up with a new solution: using Windows 7 and the Kinect for full-body control over these tiny particles. They can be picked up or pushed using body, hand and arm movements. The operator can see the particles on a computer display. Previously, researchers have used mice, trackpads, and touch controls like the iPad to try to control the laser tweezers.
In the future, the HoloHands could be a useful teaching aid. There could even be games for the system.
The setup does suffer a few problems, though, specifically the lag users may experience with normal Kinect use, and the fact that manipulating particles for long periods of time can be tiring. For now, there’s also no way to make precise, quantitative movements, which can make things challenging when you’re talking about manipulating particles just a few micrometers in diameter. There’s also no way to feel resistance while pushing an object, so that prevents it from being applied to more serious research.
You can catch a video of the system in action below.