How an Old Russian Invention Inspired STMicro's Hover Screen

Photographer: Bobi/Getty Images

Motion sensors allow users to control the screen of a device without having to touch it. Close

Motion sensors allow users to control the screen of a device without having to touch it.

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Photographer: Bobi/Getty Images

Motion sensors allow users to control the screen of a device without having to touch it.

It's the latest in mobile technology, inspired by an invention nearly a hundred years ago.

At this year's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona,  chipmaker STMicroelectronics is showcasing screen technology that works by just hovering your hand a few inches away from the surface. Thanks to motion sensors, users don't have to touch a screen to flip through an e-book or surf the Web. No more finger smudges.

Little do tech addicts know that a similar hovering gesture was invented about a century ago in Russia. In fact, that is what inspired STMicro's device, said Benedetto Vigna, the Geneva-based company's head of MEMS and sensor products.

"There was a nice instrument invented in 1919 by a Russian guy called Theremin," Vigna said in an interview. "You could play music with your hands by hovering above it, without even touching the device. That's how we came up with the idea."

Leon Theremin, also known as Lev Termen, invented what he called the termenvox, an electronic musical instrument built around two antennas. Also known as a theremin, the device has been used to create those eerie sounds found in old sci-fi movies.

STMicro's hover screen technology will be used later this year in a multimedia tablet, said Vigna, who declined to say which manufacturer will make the device. The company's clients include Samsung, Apple, Nokia and Blackberry.

Those who can't wait for the hover-screen devices can try their hand now on the theremin.

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