Within the last year or two, it's become clear to those of us who spend way too much time hanging around tech conventions that gesture recognition is trying hard to be the Next Big Thing in computer interaction. Beyond Kinect, you've got both Leap and Edge3 trying to gesturize our gadgets, and now Microsoft has developed a wearable system that bypasses gadgets entirely.
Microsoft's Digits sensor consists of an infrared illuminator and an infrared camera mounted underneath your wrist and pointing up at your fingers. As you move your fingers, the IR signal that they reflect changes, and the infrared camera can decode that signal and use it to generate a "fully articulated hand skeleton" showing the gestures that you make. It's sort of like how a Kinect sensor works, except it's focused entirely on your hand, and you're wearing it.
The big advantage here, as Microsoft points out, is that Digits doesn't tether you to a computer or a gaming system or any other piece of hardware besides what you're wearing. It's not just that Digits will work anywhere; it's also that Digits will work while you're on your way from anywhere to anywhere else. The system is completely mobile, and can be used to wirelessly interface with (say) a smartphone in your pocket to make phone calls by tapping at an invisible numberpad in midair. You could change the volume of your music by making a twisting motion with your hand. And once you get home, Digits can seamlessly interface with your computer, and let you play video games by forming your hand into a gun shape.
It's hard to imagine wearing something like this around all day, but that's because it's a functional prototype and Microsoft was just trying to get the damn thing to work properly, as opposed to designing it to be comfy and slick. Eventually, if the underlying tech proves to be useful, Microsoft says that "ultimately we would like to reduce Digits to the size of a watch that can be worn all the time." Or, even more ultimately, maybe Microsoft could reduce Digits to the size of an implant that could be be surgically inserted into your palm. And also, they could make it shoot lasers whenever it detects your fingers flipping someone off.
Watch Digits in action in the video below.