Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Molecules Controlled with a Wave

By Stephen Luntz

Computer games now often rely on gesture control rather than mice, touchpads or joysticks. Now biologists and chemists can rotate 3D representations of molecules or zoom in and out using gestures or voice recognition, thanks to a project at CSIRO and the Garvan Institute of Medical Research.

The Molecular Control Toolkit links to commercially available gesture recognition software. “I would not say categorically that this is better than using a mouse,” says team leader Dr Sean O’Donoghue, “but it is different”. O’Donoghue anticipates the toolkit will be useful when giving presentations, but will also have more specialised applications, such as “when you are in the lab and have gloves on and can’t touch a keyboard”.

A trial of 18 potential users suggested the Toolkit may be popular even when mice are an option. Garvan’s Prof Mike Rogers described being part of the trial as “fun, tactile and intuitive”.

O’Donoghue notes that “when holding an object we know how to rotate it in complex ways, but when using a mouse and keyboard this is not so obvious”. The gesture recognition system can enable a more realistic experience, while voice commands can change the representation from a relatively simple schematic to a more detailed display and back again.

While O’Donoghue says other gesture control systems of molecule manipulation have been tried before, the Molecular Control Toolkit is the first on the market, and the first to connect to widely available gaming systems.