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Apple has filed a patent application for “Electrodes For Gesture Recognition,” detailing a new approach to gesture control for the Apple Watch. The application describes how electrodes integrated into the Watch band could detect muscle movement and minute electrical activity to recognize hand and finger gestures. This would allow for more precise recognition of gestures and reduce the limitations of existing touch or proximity sensors in a touch-sensing panel, which have a limited detection range and require close proximity to the panel.
The electrodes would be configured to detect electromyography (EMG) signals that result from the contraction of muscles in the forearm and wrist of a user. With this technology, Apple could detect finger movements, allowing users to make gestures by simply clenching or stretching their hand.
The patent application aims to cover a wide range of possible future ideas, and its almost 11,000 words focus on making the process work, rather than what can then be done once an electrode has sensed a certain movement. However, Apple has already implemented an accessibility feature for the Apple Watch that allows users to stop alarms by clenching their fist. With electrodes ranged all the way around the wrist, the Watch could potentially detect a range of finger movements, allowing users to trigger various functions with simple gestures.
The patent application credits seven inventors, including Daniel A. Podhajny, who has previously worked on researching how to make a Star Trek-style communicator for Apple. The electrodes would be integrated into the watch band, with multiple rows of electrodes and conductive wiring formed in the band. Removable electrical connections could be used to enable the electrode signals to be routed to processing circuitry in the housing of the wrist-worn device.
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Apple notes that existing gesture control technologies have limitations, including line-of-sight limitations for cameras, and the need for handheld devices such as wands, controllers, or gloves. The addition of electrodes to the Watch band could address these limitations, allowing for more precise and convenient gesture control. The technology is still in the patent application stage, and it remains to be seen whether it will be implemented in future Apple Watch models.