Wearables

SkinTrack: A Device That Turns Our Bodies into computer Interface

As soon as the smartwatches were unveiled on store shelves, there was a buzz all over asking about “How can everybody play Angry Birds on this?” Today, SkinTrack have has perfectively answered that question.

Believe it or not; researchers at the Carnegie Mellon University’s Human-Computer Interaction Group have created the process of flinging colourful birds at evil pigs so simple that it is like stroking your forearm. This device, the SkinTrack, system has actually two important components: a sensing band and a signal-emitting ring that is worn on the index finger. This ring usually sends high-frequency electrical signals via the skin, and electrodes in the sensor band sense the signal’s phase differences to track movement and distance.

Arms the New Iphone

As most of our devices keep shrinking, many researchers are developing new methods for us to interact with a quite limited amount of real estate. This therefore means that taking the surface of interaction off from our tablets and phones, and moving it somewhere quite convenient. It is notable that our skin conducts electricity, and actually touch-screens already rely on the weak electrical forces at the tips of our fingers to track movements. Therefore, moving the trackpad onto human flesh was a logical next step.

In a series of functional tests carried out using a smartwatch, the researchers made study participants play Angry Birds, play songs, scroll through playlists, and even type into a keypad using the back of their hand as a surface. Other than tracking movements on the skin, SkinTrack system can also detect when a finger is hanging just above the arm, which is quite useful for moving cursors around the screen.

Researchers say their system is able to read movements with 99% accuracy, and with a minimum error of only 7.6 millimetres. The SkinTrack can still work on hairy arms and even through thin shirtsleeves, although its accuracy reduces slightly. The researchers recently presented their project at the Proceedings of the 2016 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.

Still Kinks to Iron Out

The signal-emitting ring is kind of massive, and will only last for approximately 15 hours, which is the biggest setback at the moment. The researchers want to make a more durable and fashionable signalling system in the future. Another challenge to overcome is compensating for the natural changes in our skin throughout the day, such as changes in temperature and moisture levels which could alter its conductivity. Adding a Mylar skin to the sensors appears to help, but the researchers argue that they will continue to tweak their design.

Despite that, this is one of the most integrated and low-profile systems out there for making our bodies into computer interfaces, the researchers say. The other designs rely on infrared sensors, cameras, or artificial skin to perform the same functions. Researchers have even experimented with using different parts of the watch strap and bezel to control movement. Another possible drawback: a round of Angry Birds thwarted by an itchy arm

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