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Dundee University uses Xbox Kinect to control lasers

Image caption The team at Dundee University used a Kinect motion sensor to control optical tweezers

Researchers from Dundee University have shown how technology from video game consoles can enhance scientific instruments used in laboratories.

The team at the Applied Optical Manipulation Group have used an Xbox Kinect sensor to control optical tweezers.

Optical tweezers use laser beams to manipulate particles.

The 'HoloHands' interface allows physicists to interact with the particles using just body movements.

Optical tweezers have been used in labs across the world since the 1970s, but the the Dundee team said while they have many applications, an interface with which to control them has long proved problematic for physicists.

Dr David McGloin, who led the team, believed the Xbox controller appeared to have the potential to direct the lasers used as optical tweezers.

Natural interface

Microsoft's Kinect's motion sensors enable gamers to control in-game action using body movements rather than any form of game controller.

Dr McGloin, himself an Xbox owner, said: "We have a lot of video game enthusiasts here, and we came to the conclusion that Kinect had the potential to allow us to build a very natural and intuitive interface that would appeal to a wide range of potential users.

"We're always open to new ways of working and keeping an open mind about these things is essential in science.

"This shows how technology that at first seems as far removed from the academic lab as it's possible to be, can actually be of great benefit to us."

The device consists of a camera, infrared laser to measure distance and a microchip that interprets the data to track people in 3D.

The team has tested HoloHands by moving silica microspheres using the lab's otherwise standard infrared holographic laser system.

But the team added that before it can be used for research purposes, HoloHands must overcome the time lags and misinterpretations of body movement familiar to Kinect users.

Further work must also be carried out to work out how to perform quantitative measurements but Dr McGloin said the team has earmarked other uses for HoloHands.

Undergraduate potential

He said: "There is great potential as a teaching aid that could show a new generation of students the potential of optical tweezers.

"Optical tweezers and beam manipulation technologies are increasingly found in undergraduate teaching laboratories.

"The use of a Kinect offers a fairly low-cost interface to control hi-tech equipment and allow interdisciplinary skills to be developed."

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