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Controlling and interacting with content on a smartphone or tablet is a relatively easy task given their large screens. However, the same is not true for smartwatches, which are proving to be more of a fashion statement than a piece of useful technology. Now, a group of researchers from the Human-Computer Interaction Institute’s Future Interfaces Group (HCII) at Carnegie Mellon University is trying to change that with an invention that transforms the arm into a touchpad.
This is not the first time scientists have tried to create such technology. However, previous “skin to screen” approaches have been clunky, requiring the use of things like interactive textiles and projector/camera combinations. SkinTrack, in contrast, requires users to wear just a ring and their favorite smartwatch. According to HCII team member Yang Zhang, “it (SmartTrack) is not obtrusive; watches and rings are items that people already wear every day.”
The ring uses high-frequency electrical signals to communicate with the watch and transfer the controls from the tiny screen onto the surface of the arm. Though the technology behind SkinTrack may be complicated, its usefulness is easy to comprehend.
With SkinTrack, a person can use their smartwatch to do everything they would on a tablet or computer. That means they can scroll through lists, look for directions, and even make a call by shifting the dial pad onto the back of the hand. Even cooler applications include doodling on skin and seeing the image appear on the smartwatch, or controlling apps like Facebook and Snapchat from the arm “touchpad.” SkinTrack can also be used to play games, allowing fans to continue with their favorite hobby, without missing a beat. The technology also recognizes hotkey commands. Users can simply trace "N" on their hand to open a news app or "S" to silence a phone call.
Zhang, who unveiled SkinTrack on May 10, at the Association for Computing Machinery’s Conference on Human Factors in Computing, that took place in San Jose , CA, says that while the technology is safe for humans, it does have a few limitations. The biggest one is keeping the ring powered for extended periods of time.
Additionally, the signals also become less responsive if used constantly. That’s because SkinTrack still has a hard time deciphering things like body sweat and the arm’s constant motion.
Nevertheless, the technology does appear to be a plausible avenue to improve the usability of wearable devices without compromising style. However, if SkinTrack is widely adopted, its implications in social settings will be interesting, to say the least. Is a person scratching his/her hand or being unsocial and doodling on his smartwatch?
Resources: eurekaalert.org,technologyreview.com,cmu.edu, wired.com.