Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
SAF Archives  search ask the scientists in the classroom cool science
scientists from previous shows
cool careers in science
ask the scientists

Photo of Dr. Starner THAD STARNER

Thad Starner is a Ph.D. candidate at MIT in Media Arts and Sciences. His research interests are: wearable computing; augmented reality; machine and human vision; psychophysics; computer graphics; American Sign Language (ASL) recognition; and handwriting recognition.

Here is a description of his research projects:

In the past, humans and computers have been limited to one locale of operation: the desk. What happens when the computer can not only be physically close to the user all the time (as with notebooks and handwriting based PDA's) but also in constant use (i.e. while shaking hands in a conference, walking down the street, etc.)? With a display in a pair of eyeglasses, a one-handed keyboard/mouse, a CPU box with local memory and hard disk, and a cellular modem connection, I have set upon a personal experiment, now in its third year, to find out. So far, I have discovered that not only is the system invaluable in storing and organizing information, but it also opens several new (or very old, depending on your perspective) fields of research: augmented memory, augmented reality, and intellectual collectives. For more information, see the Wearable Computing web page at

Other research projects include ALIVE and recognizing sign language through computer vision. ALIVE is a wire-free, non-intrusive, full body virtual environment which uses only machine vision for sensing the user. The vision architecture (IVE) has been used to interact with autonomous virtual creatures, play games, control window systems, and operate telerobots. Currently, the vision system is being adapted and combined with a hidden Markov model system to recognize American Sign Language.


S.M., Media Arts and Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Feb. 1995
S.B., Computer Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1991
S.B., Brain and Cognitive Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1991

Selected Publications

Human Powered Wearable Computing
T. Starner, To appear in IBM Systems Journal.

Visual Recognition of American Sign Language Using Hidden Markov Models.
T. Starner and A. Pentland
International Workshop on Automatic Face and Gesture Recognition (IWAFGR) 1995, Zurich, Switzerland

Visual Recognition of American Sign Language Using Hidden Markov Models.
T. Starner, Master's Thesis, MIT, Feb 1995.

On-line Cursive Handwriting Recognition Using Speech Methods
T. Starner, J. Makhoul, R. Schwartz, G. Chou
IEEE Conf. on Acoustics, Speech, and Signal Processing, Adelaide, Australia, April 1994, Vol. V, pp. 125-128.

View-Based and Modular Eigenspaces for Face Recognition
A. Pentland, B. Moghaddam, T. Starner
Proceedings of CVPR '94, June 21-23, 1994, Seattle, WA, Braun-Brumfield, Inc.

For more information:

See Thad Starner's answers to Ask the Scientists questions.


Scientific American Frontiers
Fall 1990 to Spring 2000
Sponsored by GTE Corporation,
now a part of Verizon Communications Inc.