Data Gloves (or wired gloves or cybergloves), as the name implies, are computer input devices that are worn on the hand like a glove. They utilize motion trackers to translate finger manipulations into electrical signals. In the near future, this technology might revolutionize the way that disabled people are able to access computer resources. For instance, individuals who are currently unable to use a mouse or keyboard might have a better chance with a wired glove. As these products come down in price, it’s fair to assume that regular computer users will be able to afford them as well. Some USB standard devices are already out on the market today. There are other possible commercial applications for these devices as well…the market just needs innovators to lead the way.
The Past and Future of Data Gloves It might be best to call these high tech gloves a reemerging technology. They actually came into vogue in the 1980s. A number of rather ridiculous contraptions were designed around these devices at the time – but this was of course due to the available technologies of the era. The VPL DataGlove was certainly one of the earliest virtual reality products regular people could buy. For a while, many believed they were the future of video games and virtual simulations.
Despite the early promise of the devices, people forgot about them for quite some time. There are a few reasons that wired glove technology has been downplayed in recent years. For instance, many virtual reality machines designed around data gloves were hazardous to people’s health. Certain types of displays caused headaches and seizures. Many wired glove consumer products were also poorly planned early on. Many of you may remember the ill-fated Power Glove for the Nintendo Entertainment System. So there have been some missteps in this field. However, there’s nothing to say that wired glove products need to use 3D displays for successful operation. For that matter, there isn’t even a reason to believe that their future success is dependent upon adoption in the consumer market.
Moving Forward – How Data Gloves Can be Used Some of the most interesting research being done today lies within the field of human-machine interfaces. Rather than applications pertaining only to specialized fields (i.e. rehabilitation), many experts believe that the future for cybergloves is actually quite broad.
Machines or robots in the future might be designed specifically to include glove interfaces. For example, some organizations have focused on creating certain types of robots that lack sophisticated software for organizational tasks. Think of a robot that might be used to assemble a multi-ton piece of equipment that needs to be built to spec. In this type of application, humans would remotely control the robots, using data glove interfaces, as opposed to building software to control the robots. This can reduce the need for sophisticated software that has the potential to fail (and avoid the potential catastrophes that might follow) by allowing a human operator to take control of a system, through the use of a wired glove interface, while capitalizing on the advantages of robotics at the same time. Since computers currently lack the ability to discriminate between different choices, a human operator might actually be superior to a computer in these types of applications. These are the instances when data gloves may be useful.
Alternatively, data gloves can be used in telerobotic operations. For example, telerobotics could give organizations the option to control systems anywhere in the world using localized data gloves. This has significant implications when considered. For instance, what if companies could repair broken down equipment in the sea, space, or even the desert using the devices? Isn’t that better than risking the lives of humans for the same processes? There are lots of possibilities in terms of commercial applications in this area. I’m simply touching on a few just to illustrate the potential that these devices may have in the future.
Another obvious use of these high-tech gloves lies within the area of rehabilitation. People recovering from injuries may be able to relearn how to use certain muscle groups by using these sorts of devices. Some modern rehabilitation systems have actually been built around the devices. Computing applications abound as well…especially in the quest to rid the world of input devices. While it’s far too early to claim that keyboards (or the mouse) are an endangered species, a diverse line of data gloves in the near future could potentially change the computing market in this area.
What are some problems you can imagine data gloves being able to solve in the future?
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