SkinTrack will make your arm a touchpad to navigate your smartwatch

What’s the number one complaint of smartwatch users? Navigation, thanks to the small screens these wearable devices have. A bigger screen size is not a feasible solution as it will make the proportions of the device absurd and increase unwanted bulk. We all want “smartwatches” that look and feel like regular watches, but are loaded with technology. We don’t want a big billboard like touchscreen on our wrists. So how can this ordeal be dealt with?

The solution is SkinTrack, a clever system designed by Future Interfaces Group from Carnegie Mellon University that will turn your forearm into an extension of the smartwatch interface. The system will be able to track your finger movements on your skin, just like the touchpad on a laptop.

SkinTrack is based on the use of a ring that is customized to emit high-frequency signal and a wristband that has multiple electrodes built into it. The signal emitted by the ring travels through the finger, on to the forearm skin and is finally picked up by the electrodes on the wristband strap. SkinTrack measures the phase difference between the electrodes and pinpoints the location of the finger on the skin and is able to track its movements. Basically, your skin becomes a 2 dimensional trackpad for the smartwatch screen that is accurate in tracking your finger movements.

The system can also sense if your finger is hovering above the skin and not touching it. It can sense when you touch your skin, when you press it or tap it. SkinTrack can be used to draw gestures, dial numbers, enter texts and even register a tap. And the best thing is that it will work even you have a sleeve all the down to your wrist. The system will be able to pick up the high frequency alternating current signals through the fabric without losing accuracy.

A demo video, uploaded on YouTube shows the wearer being able to scroll through menus, apps, music playlists, draw letters for navigation shortcuts, dial numbers on the invisible dialer on the back of the hand and even play a game of Angry Birds. The researchers commented that the system is 99 percent accurate when it comes to sensing the position and touch of the finger on the arm.

As our approach is compact, non-invasive, low-cost and low-powered, we envision the technology being integrated into future smartwatches, supporting rich touch interactions beyond the confines of the small touchscreen,” the creators write in a YouTube description.

The only drawback is that the technology is in the form of a prototype and still requires some work to sort out the kinks. The ring and the wristband are quite bulky and not viable for widespread use. The researchers are currently working out solutions to make it more compact, longer lasting and more resistant to wear tear from sweat, dust and water. Battery life of the ring is another issue that requires to be looked into and the hardware is not perfect yet.

One thing is for certain, the future we dream about is closer that we think it is.

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