Capacitive Sensing and Communication for Ubiquitous Interaction and Environmental Perception
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During the last decade, the functionalities of electronic devices within a living environment constantly increased. Besides the personal computer, now tablet PCs, smart household appliances, and smartwatches enriched the technology landscape. The trend towards an ever-growing number of computing systems has resulted in many highly heterogeneous human-machine interfaces. Users are forced to adapt to technology instead of having the technology adapt to them. Gathering context information about the user is a key factor for improving the interaction experience. Emerging wearable devices show the benefits of sophisticated sensors which make interaction more efficient, natural, and enjoyable. However, many technologies still lack of these desirable properties, motivating me to work towards new ways of sensing a user's actions and thus enriching the context. In my dissertation I follow a human-centric approach which ranges from sensing hand movements to recognizing whole-body interactions with objects. This goal can be approached with a vast variety of novel and existing sensing approaches. I focused on perceiving the environment with quasi-electrostatic fields by making use of capacitive coupling between devices and objects. Following this approach, it is possible to implement interfaces that are able to recognize gestures, body movements and manipulations of the environment at typical distances up to 50cm. These sensors usually have a limited resolution and can be sensitive to other conductive objects or electrical devices that affect electric fields. The technique allows for designing very energy-efficient and high-speed sensors that can be deployed unobtrusively underneath any kind of non-conductive surface. Compared to other sensing techniques, exploiting capacitive coupling also has a low impact on a user's perceived privacy. In this work, I also aim at enhancing the interaction experience with new perceptional capabilities based on capacitive coupling. I follow a bottom-up methodology and begin by presenting two low-level approaches for environmental perception. In order to perceive a user in detail, I present a rapid prototyping toolkit for capacitive proximity sensing. The prototyping toolkit shows significant advancements in terms of temporal and spatial resolution. Due to some limitations, namely the inability to determine the identity and fine-grained manipulations of objects, I contribute a generic method for communications based on capacitive coupling. The method allows for designing highly interactive systems that can exchange information through air and the human body. I furthermore show how human body parts can be recognized from capacitive proximity sensors. The method is able to extract multiple object parameters and track body parts in real-time. I conclude my thesis with contributions in the domain of context-aware devices and explicit gesture-recognition systems.