Coming soon: the mobile that works by a nod, a wink or the wave of a hand

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The Independent Online

You will soon be able to walk the talk a lot more easily. New research is under way to develop technology that will make it possible to send text messages and make phone calls without having to touch the keypad.

By simply waving your hand, nodding or winking, the technology will enable us to dispense with the hassle of typing in characters.

"We're trying to get away from using your eyes as much as possible because you need them when you're on the move," says Professor Stephen Brewster, who is heading the research project sponsored by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. Academics at Glasgow University have developed a handy device known as an "accelerometer", which is less than a centimetre in diameter and incredibly sensitive to motion.

"If you had an accelerometer on your finger you could write a text message by drawing the letters in the air," Professor Brewster said. "It would use our new 3D sound technology to repeat what you'd written back to you. You might hear the words as if they were being spoken right in front of you. So you could still be listening to your iPod, which would sound as if the music is coming from behind you. Then you might use another accelerometer embedded in the headphones to send the message by nodding your head."

The hard part - which will take another 18 months to perfect - is making sure the equipment does not recognise signals that are not meant for it.

"Gestures need to be discreet and unobtrusive enough that users can happily control their gadget in public without looking as if they are conducting an orchestra," Professor Brewster said. "On the other hand, they need freedom to get a little carried away with their dance moves without accidentally changing tracks. Trying to perfect really good gesture-recognition is very hard. You don't want the technology to recognise a signal that wasn't meant for the device. And that's not an easy problem to solve."

Researchers at Glasgow University say this technology will be here within two years. Then they want to start work on other futuristic gizmos.

We can also look forward to the multi-vibrational mobile phone skin patch. "We've started looking at tactile displays, which would work very well with mobiles," said Professor Brewster. "Your skin works very well as a receiving instrument - you can get lots of signals through it. We're not really taking advantage of that yet."

The mobile phone has come a long way since Dr Martin Cooper at Motorola made the first call in April 1973. More than three decades later we have "clamshell" handsets consciously modelled on the "communicators" in Star Trek, and Samsung is poised to launch a gaming phone that allows characters to run and jump when the handset is shaken.

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