In the news recently: Future Surgeons May Use Robotic Nurse, ‘Gesture Recognition’.
ScienceDaily (Feb. 3, 2011) — Surgeons of the future might use a system that recognizes hand gestures as commands to control a robotic scrub nurse or tell a computer to display medical images of the patient during an operation.
I have noticed similar projects earlier, where surgeons in the OR were target users of gesture recognition. The basic idea behind this niche application area for gesture recognition is fairly simple: A surgeon wants to control an increasing battery of technological systems and he does not want to touch them, because that would increase the chance of infections. So, he can either gesture or talk to the machines (or let other people control them).
In this case the surgeon is supposed to control a robotic nurse with gestures (see more about the robotic nurse here). You can also view a nice video about this story here; it is a main story of the latest Communications of the ACM.
Well, I have to say I am in doubt if this is a viable niche for gesture recognition. So far, speech recognition has been used with some succes to dictate operating reports during the procedure. I don’t know if it has been used to control computers in the OR. Frankly, it sounds a bit scary and also a bit slow. Gesture and speech recognition are known for their lack of reliability and speed. Compared to pressing a button, for example, they give more errors and time delays. Anything that is mission-critical during the operation should therefore not depend on gesture or speech control would be my opinion.
However, the real question is what the alternatives for gesture or speech control are and how reliable and fast those alternatives are. For example, if the surgeon has to tell another human what to do with the computer, for example displaying a certain image, then this can also be unreliable (because of misinterpretations) and slow.
The article mentions several challenges: “… providing computers with the ability to understand the context in which gestures are made and to discriminate between intended gestures versus unintended gestures”. That sounds like they also run into problems with fidgeting or something similar that surgeons do.
In sum, it will be interesting to see if surgeons will be using gesture recognition in the future, but I wouldn’t bet on it.