Apple explores tracking the veins in your hands for gesture controls

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Gesture controls are enabled by scanning for veins.
Finding the veins in users’ hands is the secret to gesture controls in new Apple tech.
Photo: Cult of Mac/Apple

Apple was awarded a slightly macabre patent for scanning the veins in someone’s hands to determine finger position, thus enabling gesture controls.

This technology could potentially be used in Apple Watch or the smart glasses the company is allegedly developing.

Apple develops X-Ray vision. Sort of.

In its patent filing, Apple points out a limitation of current control methods. “While voice and touch input can be an effective way to control a device, there may be situations where the user’s ability to speak the verbal command or perform the touch gesture may be limited,” writes Michael R. Brennan, an Apple engineer.

He created a system for taking images of the user’s hands and locating the veins within. That reveals the positions of the fingers. “The device can determine the user’s hand movements (e.g., finger movements), and one or more gestures and/or finger positions can be determined from the hand movements (e.g., finger movements),” notes Brennan in his patent filing.

Gesture controls could for a range of Apple devices

The “Vein scanning device for automatic gesture and finger recognition” patent describes the technology being used in a smart watch. It would enable the wearer to control their Apple Watch without touching it. But there’s currently no camera in the Apple Watch. Until Apple adds one, Brennan’s creation isn’t feasible.

This technology would be even more useful in the much-rumored Apple Glass. This doesn’t have a touchscreen, and could be controlled through hand gestures. That said, rumors predict these AR glasses will have a Lidar scanner for gesture recognition. And they won‘t have a camera for privacy reasons. Again, this obviates any need for Brennan’s tech.

But gesture controls could be useful in a Mac or iPad. The user could start or stop music playback with a quick hand movement in front of the front-facing camera, for example.