A new design tool that can interpret hand gestures, enables designers at Purdue University, West Lafayette IN, to create and modify three-dimensional shapes using only their hands as a "natural user interface" instead of using a keyboard and mouse. The tool, called Shape-It-Up, uses specialized computer algorithms and a depth-sensing camera to observe and interpret hand gestures. The user creates shapes in a computer by interacting with a virtual workspace as the shape is displayed and manipulated on a monitor. The creations can then be produced using a 3D printer.

Shapes like these can be created using a new design tool that interprets hand gestures, enabling designers and artists to create and modify 3-D shapes using just their hands as a “natural user interface” instead of keyboard and mouse. The tool was created by Purdue researchers. (Credit: Purdue University image/ C Design Lab)

The engineers call the underlying technique shape–gesture–context interplay, and say that the tool could have applications in areas including engineering design, games, architecture, and more.

It uses the Microsoft Kinect camera, which senses 3D space. The researchers created advanced algorithms that recognize hand gestures, understand that the hand is interacting with the shape, and then modify the shape in response to the hand interaction.