SkinTrack technology turns arm into smartwatch touchpad

May 09, 2016 // By Jean-Pierre Joosting
Wearable technology developed at Carnegie Mellon University suggests turning the entire lower arm into a touchpad could be a sloultion to the tiny interafce presented by smartwatches.

Called SkinTrack and developed by the Human-Computer Interaction Institute's Future Interfaces Group, the system allows for continuous touch tracking on the hands and arms. It also can detect touches at discrete locations on the skin, enabling functionality similar to buttons or slider controls.

Previous "skin to screen" approaches have employed flexible overlays, interactive textiles and projector/camera combinations that can be cumbersome. SkinTrack, by contrast, requires only that the user wear a special ring, which propagates a low-energy, high-frequency signal through the skin when the finger touches or nears the skin surface.

"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 Ph.D. student in HCII.

"A major problem with smartwatches and other digital jewelry is that their screens are so tiny," said Gierad Laput, a Ph.D. student in HCII 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."

"SkinTrack makes it possible to move interactions from the screen onto the arm, providing much larger interface," said Chris Harrison, assistant professor in the HCII and adviser to the research. The user wears a ring that produces a high-frequency electrical signal. When the finger gets near to the skin or touches the skin, that signal propagates through the skin.