SkinTrack Technology Transforms Your Arm Into A Smartwatch Touchpad

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Photo Credit: Carnegie Mellon University via Gerard Laput

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.”

Playing Angry Birds (Photo Credit: Carnegie Mellon University/Gierad Laput)

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.

Transferring App control to arm (Photo Credit: Carnegie Mellon University/Gierard Laput)

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.

Doodling on the smartwatch (Photo Credit: Carnegie Mellon University/ Gierad Laput)

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?


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San Jose, CA

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  1. Why have smartwatches not been as useful as tablets and computers?
  2. How do researchers from Carnegie Mellon hope to change that?

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“Though the technology behind SkinTrack may be complicated, its usefulness is easy to comprehend.”

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  • hello kidFriday, August 10, 2018 at 9:54 am
    who dat guy... a genius???
    • hello kidFriday, August 3, 2018 at 10:27 am
      no, it uses a sensor
      • hello kidFriday, August 3, 2018 at 10:27 am
        what if we could download any game on it? we could put a sharpie on our skin and draw a box and that was the area to tap and then you could play any game on your skin like an ipad or a phone!!!
        • spykitten
          spykittenFriday, August 3, 2018 at 11:51 am
          Yes we could!
        • happy kdThursday, June 14, 2018 at 7:11 pm
          cool, does it do anything to your skin?
          • The tech girlMonday, March 26, 2018 at 9:04 am
            Omg, so cool, I shared with my whole class!
            • tacocat16Tuesday, March 6, 2018 at 1:58 pm
              that is really really cool
              • AJMonday, March 5, 2018 at 1:55 pm
                How many cost that?
                • AJMonday, March 5, 2018 at 1:54 pm
                  Wow it's cool
                  • YouLiveOnceWednesday, February 21, 2018 at 6:52 pm
                    SO COOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
                    • yalo
                      yaloTuesday, January 30, 2018 at 10:52 am
                      anyone there because this has blown me up.

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