Users wearing the brooch can turn toward the device they want to control, for example, a DVD player. If you want to fast-forward the player, swipe your hand twice to the left. Want to turn the volume up on the TV? Raise your hand in front of the pendant.
"Depending on which device you're turned to it will control that device," he said.
The initial prototype led to the development of the Gesture watch, which works the same way (and is a lot more stylish); users pass their fingers in front of the watch face to control a variety of consumer electronics.
The watch has been particularly interesting to Starner, who envisions its use as an MP3 player or a cell phone that fits in the ear much the way a hearing aid might. Tracks could be changed by passing fingers in front of your ear. Want track 4? Pass four fingers in front of your ear.
The same idea could even be applied to cell phones, Starner said.
"You can even dial numbers with it," he said.
When director Abowd founded the AWARE house, he took very seriously the institute's role in developing technologies that were useful and inexpensive -- ones that might not be as initially attractive or sexy to manufacturers.
"If you look at what homeowners spend money on, a lot of it has to do with entertainment and security. Those things are happening," he said. "We do a little bit of work with respect to entertainment, but also [examine] what kinds of things you might also do with these technologies that address more global or social concerns."
Companies may be getting hip to those concerns -- or at least the technology that the concerns are inspiring.
Starner said that at least one company has already expressed interest in the Gesture watch technology.
"We really believe that we can start making devices that make gesture, speech and alternative interfaces that allow you to get the functionality from your iPod or Blackberry or iPhone but are not so awkward to wear," Starner said, "so it just disappears into your life."