Fat Fingers

The Future Interfaces Group (FIG) at Carnegie Mellon University has released a demo of their prototype for a smart device that would let you use your arm as a touchscreen interface. The SkinTrack uses “the body as an electrical waveguide for continuous touch tracking on the skin.”

The project aims to expand the interactive area beyond the confines of a device’s screen, solving the “fat finger problem" that, quite honestly, affects even those of us with the thinnest digits.

The proof-of-concept smart watch prototype employs two components: a watch for the arm where the navigation platform will be projected, and a ring for the navigating hand. It uses four pairs of electrodes to map the location of your finger through signals from the ring. Two electrodes are dedicated for X-axis movements, and another two for Y-axis movements.  

The SkinTrack supports discreet gestures such as tapping, directional swiping, and continuous tracking.  Gestures and movements are detected on either side of the watch, even when your arm is covered by clothing. The device also allows you to drag something from your watch to your skin, creating a shortcut on your arm.

Competition Is Getting Tight

SkinTrack isn't completely unique. Similar products are in the works by competing companies. Take, for example, the SkinWatch, which picks up on “pinch” gestures on your skin. Samsung recently even filed a patent on smartwatches projecting interface on hands, arms, walls, and even into virtual reality headsets.

There's also the Cicret Bracelet, which allows you to do what you do with a tablet “but directly on your skin and without any smartphone.” The demo video shows the Cicret Bracelet projecting the contents of a phone on an arm, which the user navigates while in the tub, allowing the use of the phone even on a wet surface (in this case, an arm).

The waterproof aspect of the project is appealing. Paired with the ability to use your phone while keeping it hidden adds to the convenience. Safety is another plus-- while someone could steal the bracelet, it’s still much harder than snatching a phone that isn’t wrapped around your arm.

All these projects are currently seeking funding, so there are no definite dates for launch yet. Until then, we're going to have to suffer through not being able to use our smartphones in the tub.

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