Everyone has the latest wearable interface, their skin

(Image Credit: Future Interfaces Group)

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have established a way to make skin the next user interface for technology – solving the issue of small displays on most wearables. 

Current smartwatches are more powerful than their interfaces allow them to be. When you cover most of the display with a single finger, it limits what interactions you can perform with a device. A team at the Future Interfaces Group, a research lab within Carnegie Mellon University, have shown-off their solution called 'SkinTrack' which enables the skin on your body to act like a touchscreen for your wearable. 

"A major problem with smartwatches and other digital jewelry is that their screens are so tiny," said Gierad Laput, an HCII Ph.D. student and part of the research team. "Not only is the interaction area small, but your finger actually blocks much of the screen when you're using it. Input tends to be pretty basic, confined to a few buttons or some directional swipes." 

A ring worn on the finger emits a signal which communicates with a band attached to a watch and translates movements into navigation in the interface; accomplished by a painless high-frequency electrical signal being spread across the user's arm when the ring-wearing finger is placed against the skin. 

When the signal is received by the band, the distance between the ring and four pairs of electrodes in the watchband is utilised for triangulating the position of your finger in 2D space. "The great thing about SkinTrack is that it's not obtrusive; watches and rings are items that people already wear every day," said Yang Zhang, a first-year HCII Ph.D. student. 

It's not the first instance where the human body has been used to send and receive electrical signals. This property has been utilised extensively in the past for personal area networks (PANs) which modulate an electrical signal onto the skin for digital communication purposes, whilst other systems have also employed this property for human-computer input such as DiamondTouch, an early multi-user interactive whiteboard, which used different ground paths to differentiate touches from several users. Nevertheless, it's an exciting development and could hint at the future of how we interact with our devices. 

You can find out more information about SkinTrack here, or watch a video demo here.

Do you see a future for technology like SkinTrack? Share your thoughts in the comments. 



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