ITRI (Industrial Technology Research Institute) has introduced iAT (i-Air Touch) Technology, one of the first see-through display and air-touch input technologies for computers, wearable computers, and mobile devices that allows a user’s hand to be free of any physical device such as a touchpad or keyboard for touch input.

i-Air Touch enables a user wearing a pair of special eyeglasses to see and interact with a virtual input device, such as a touchscreen or mouse that appears to be floating in air, while still being able to see and interact with the real world around them. i-Air Touch is available now for licensing by computing, consumer electronic and mobile companies.

ITRI will receive a 2013 R&D 100 Award in November for this breakthrough technology.

Now for the first time, instead of controlling wearable computers with head movements, voice commands, touching the devices or entering commands into the app on a smartphone, i-Air Touch users can type on the ”floating” keypad, keyboard, mouse or touch panel insuring flexibility, accuracy, privacy and convenience on-the-go.

i-Air Touch includes three components: see-through eyeglasses, an internal camera technology, and an air-touch interface.

The see-through eyeglasses display data, images, and input devices to both eyes or only to one eye. The camera scans for and records input, and the air-touch interface relays input from the camera to the eyeglasses displaying a response to the user.

The camera technology can be integrated with an existing camera in a wearable computer, and the air-touch interface can be integrated into the firmware and software system of a wearable computer, which makes it cost-effective to incorporate i-Air Touch in existing wearable-computer designs.

“i-Air Touch creates new possibilities for wearable and mobile computing by freeing users from the distraction of locating and touching keys on a physical input device for hands-free computing and improving security over voice commands,” said Golden Tiao, deputy general director of ITRI’s Electronics and Optoelectronics Research Laboratories. “In addition to consumer applications, i-Air Touch is suitable for medical applications such as endoscopic surgery and any industrial applications that benefit from hands-free input.”

The DDDR (defined distance with defined range) camera is the key functional component of i-Air Touch and conserves battery power, a major issue facing manufacturers of many wearable computers. This special camera with a phase- and color-coded lens discerns an object only at a predetermined distance between 28 cm and 32 cm, and proactively detects and activates only in the presence of a fingertip within input range, shutting off if no fingertip is present. It does not take pictures but can be integrated with the consumer photographic camera technology of a wearable computer.

By detecting that the user fingertip is in input range, the camera ensures that the user is intentionally trying to air-touch the virtual input device and that the camera does not mistake other user movements for input. A successful virtual touch triggers i-Air Touch to send a signal to the host device (a computer, laptop, smartphone, etc.) signifying that a key has been pressed or a touchscreen function has been touched.

The DDDR camera captures an image of the user’s fingertip and splits it into green and red color-codes to provide segmentation in image processing, while phase coding provides distance and depth perception of the fingertip. The camera lens focuses the green light component at 28 cm and the red at 32 cm. The combined green and red components resolve to the strongest image signal at 30 cm, the distance of the virtual input device from the user. The camera then captures the image signal at 30 cm as input. The camera cannot “see” image signals outside of the 28 to 32 cm virtual target plane and therefore such signals consume no image processing power.