One of the biggest strengths of smartwatches is also one of their biggest weaknesses: their size. Being able to wear a smartphone on your wrist can be convenient but the small screen means that its functionality is extremely limited.
Researchers at the Future Interfaces Group, a research lab at Carnegie Mellon University, believe they have come up with a solution to this. Chris Harrison and his team developed a smart ring that connects wirelessly to a smartwatch to transform any surface into a touch pad for the device.
“Smartwatches are extremely powerful computers but currently the smarts are being held back by the interface,” Chris Harrison, director of the Future Interfaces Group, tells Newsweek.
“The screen is so small that you can’t really do anything effective with them. That’s why we decided to steal surface area from the wearer’s skin.”
Harrison’s SkinTrack technology allows wearers to trace letters on their arms to launch apps, play games like Angry Birds, and type numbers or letters on a “discrete touch” buttons on the arm—interactions that are currently impossible with current smartwatches.
The ring works by emitting a high frequency, low power AC signal that effectively turns the finger into an antenna. When it comes into contact with the skin, a sensing band attached to the smartwatch calculates the relative position of the finger and tracks its movements.
Harrison and his team of researchers hope to expand the ring’s capabilities to work with any surface—such as desks or walls—so that “the whole world would be a touch interface.”
The Skintrack system developed for the prototype was retrofitted into an existing smartwatch model, though future iterations of the technology could be developed and built in conjunction with a smartwatch.
No word was given on whether the lab is in talks with manufacturers, however previous inventions from the Future Interfaces Group have found homes in major electronics and smartphone makes, such as Huawei.