MagiThings: Gestural Interaction with Mobile Devices Based on Using Embedded Compass (Magnetic Field) Sensor

MagiThings: Gestural Interaction with Mobile Devices Based on Using Embedded Compass (Magnetic Field) Sensor

Mehran Roshandel (Deutsche Telekom Laboratories, Germany), Amin Haji-Abolhassani (McGill University, Canada), and Hamed Ketabdar (Deutsche Telekom Laboratories, Germany)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8583-3.ch003
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This paper proposes a new approach for the “around-device interaction” based on magnetic field interaction. The new approach, called “MagiThings”, takes the advantage of digital compass embedded in the new generation of mobile devices. The user movements of a properly shaped magnet around the device deform the original magnetic field. The magnet is taken or worn around the fingers. The changes made in the magnetic field pattern around the device constitute a new way of interacting with the device. The mobile device samples momentary status of the field. The field changes, caused by hand gesture, are used as a basis for sending interaction commands to the device. The proposed methodology has been successfully tested for a variety of applications such as interaction with the user interface of a mobile device, character (digit) entry, user authentication, gaming and touch-less mobile music synthesis.
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Compass, a human made navigational tool, has been widely employed to facilitate the navigation difficulties in the past centuries. An ordinary compass, by itself, is nothing more than a magnetized needle that pivots on an axis and tends to stay aligned with the earth’s north-south magnetic field. Recent developments in electronics, has introduced compact, cheaper and high performing electronic devices, such as magnetometer, gyroscope, and accelerometer.

In recent years, digital compass, along with other genre of sensors, such as GPS, accelerometer and dual camera have been embedded within the cell phones to enhance the functionalities of the phone. Digital Compass along with GPS has been used to provide navigation to the user. It is shown that the usability of the digital compass can be extended beyond navigational applications, providing a new user interaction approach with mobile devices (Ketabdar, Yüksel, & Roshandel, 2010b).

The electronic magnetic sensor in a mobile device acts like a regular compass. Any slight displacement of the device with respect to the earth’s magnetic field is sensed and registered by the device. A similar type of influence can be imposed upon the magnetic field of the sensor if a permanent magnet slides around the device. Specifically, a small magnet that moves around the device affects the magnetic field around the sensor, and therefore generates a temporal pattern which changes along the x, y and z axes depending on the movement of the magnet. This pattern can be used to establish a touchless interaction framework as a means of interaction between the user and the device (Figure 1). In other words, the user generates a specific gesture while moving the magnet, which creates a temporal pattern of change in the magnetic field sensed by the compass sensor. This pattern can then be compared against the pre-recorded templates or pre-trained models in order to recognize the gesture and interpret it as a command.

Figure 1.

Gestural interaction with a mobile device by a magnet taken (or worn) around a finger, based on using embedded compass sensor


This touchless input method addresses some of the limitations commonly associated with traditional input methods, such as keypads or touch screens interaction. One of the main restrictions in designing miniature electronic devices is the size of the user input interface that needs to be large enough to comply with the human physical characteristics. A small properly shaped magnet, e.g., in shape of a rod, ring or pen though, can freely move in the 3D space around the device which is considerably broader than the surface of hand held device screen. A properly shaped magnet is magnetic material that can be taken in hand or worn around a finger comfortably and naturally. By this means, a small handheld device could be augmented with an enhanced user interface mechanism that can overcome the limitation of the device in terms of user interaction. Moreover, the 3D characteristic of the proposed method opens new door for augmented and virtual reality applications on mobile phones. Additionally, since the magnetic field can penetrate through occluding objects, it allows for interactions, even though the device is concealed by other objects, or while the device is inside the user pocket or handbag. For instance, the user may be able to dial a number, enter a pin code, or select a music album without taking the mobile device out of his pocket/bag. Additionally, by the same reason, space at back of the device can be also freely used for interaction (Figure 2). This is in contrary with touch screens, where interactions are only possible when the device is in a direct contact with the user.

Figure 2.

Back of device interaction based on magnetic interaction framework. The magnetic field can pass through many covering fabrics, allowing interaction even when the hand is not in the line of sight of the device

(Ketabdar, Yüksel, & Roshandel, 2010b, -p. 2).

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