A fingerless bike glove equipped with electrical sensors lets you write on thin air, according to new research.
The modified glove could not only allow for discreet, one-handed text messaging but also create an early warning system for neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's.
"Handwriting consists of memory, knowledge, cognition and dexterity, and all these processes are simultaneously at work," said Michael Linderman, a neuroscientist and a co-author of the article published in the journal Public Library of Science One (PLoS).
"This process is very sensitive to the general state of the nervous system," and could help to identify potential neurodegenerative diseases earlier than existing techniques.
The researchers started with a fingerless bike glove and 17 electrically sensitive patches.
Placing the patches over the major muscle groups in the hand and lower arm, the researchers recorded the time and strength of the impulse and input the data into a computer program.
Crunching the data from the muscles, a computer program linked specific series of muscle movements to individual letters, which were then displayed on a computer screen.
The more times the user traces the letter, the better the computer gets at identifying it. With five repetitions, the computer was accurate 63 percent of the time. After 35 repetitions, the computers accuracy hit 97 percent.
The system is already equipped to recognize handwriting and display it on a computer screen, so creating a commercial glove using Bluetooth to write one-handed text messages wouldn't be difficult.
However, finding a market for such a glove, which Linderman says would likely cost around $100, might prove more challenging.
A potentially better fit for the modified glove could be the medical community. Writing demands complex and highly ordered muscle movement with several different and distinct neurological processes.
If a neurological condition affects memory, nerve conduction or a variety of other processes, the user's handwriting will appear sloppier or slower. The results from such a device wouldn't provide a definitive diagnosis, but would rather serve as a early warning system for potential neurological problems.
The glove may well serve clinical applications, said Andrew Schwartz, a professor of neurobiology at the University of Pittsburgh, but his interest in the device lies elsewhere.
"There are lots of questions about how the brain activates a large set of muscles," said Schwartz. Although there are several channels through which the brain could signal the muscles to contract, for some reason, the brain only uses a few solutions.
"If we understood that (process), it would give us new clues as to how the brain functions."