Muscle-Controlled Interface Is Hands-Free

A muscle-controlled interface has been developed by researchers at Microsoft, the University of Washington in Seattle, and the University of Toronto. The device senses muscular movements in the forearms to allow for hands-free, gesture control of electronic devices.

(Muscle sensor interface testing)

A band of electrodes attach to a person's forearm and read electrical activity from different arm muscles. These signals are then correlated to specific hand gestures, such as touching a finger and thumb together, or gripping an object tighter than normal...

The group's most recent interface, presented at the User Interface Software and Technology conference earlier this month in Victoria, British Columbia, uses six electromyography sensors (EMG) and two ground electrodes arranged in a ring around a person's upper right forearm for sensing finger movement, and two sensors on the upper left forearm for recognizing hand squeezes. While these sensors are wired and individually placed, their orientation isn't exact--that is, specific muscles aren't targeted. This means that the results should be similar for a thin, EMG armband that an untrained person could slip on without assistance...

Ian Banks gives us a glimpse of this idea in his 2004 novel The Algebraist in this passage about a muscle sensor interface:

The ship accelerated smoothly but moderately hard, creating a distant humming roar. Fassin had a little pad under his right forearm which sensed muscle movements there and adjusted the screen across from him - above from him, now, it felt, as the couch straightened out and the gee-suit supported him...

Update 31-Oct-2009: Thanks to Ashley's comment, and some material on Winchel Chung's sf sidearms page, I found a new reference in Harry Harrison's 1960 novel Deathworld:

Here, take your left hand and grasp an imaginary gunbutt. Tense your trigger finger. Do you notice the pattern of the tendons in the wrist? Sensitive actuators touch the tendons in your right wrist. They ignore all patterns except the one that says hand ready to receive gun...
(Read more about Harry Harrison's power holster)

End update. From MIT's Technology Review; see a short technical video.

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