Will Cyber Finger Point The Way To Virtual Reality?

It's hard to think of virtual reality without conjuring up the bulky, sensor-laden Data Glove developed by Silicon Valley pioneer VPL Research Inc. But for a vision of where artificial reality is heading, look to Nippon Telegraph & Telephone Corp.'s Cyber Finger. This new system was unveiled late last month by researchers at the Tokyo company's Human Interface Laboratory.

Instead of donning a cumbersome glove, a person simply straps on a wristwatch-size device. It's actually a grid of sensors that pick up the faint electrical signals produced by muscle activity in the wearer's hand and fingers. These biosignals are fed to a neural-network chip that has been "trained" to recognize which signals come from what muscles. The neurochip then translates the biosignals into electronic signals that can manipulate virtual objects in some computer-simulated realm. When it's linked via radio to a mobile robot with a humanoid hand, the wristband device could also be used for so-called telecontrol applications, including defusing bombs from a safe distance or cleaning up toxic spills. NTT declines to speculate how long it will take to develop a commercial version of Cyber Finger.