Are Smartwatches just a fad?
Smartwatches are cool. Definitely cool enough for us to shell out whatever the current price is just to have one of them lie classily on our wrists. That's pretty much all they do, though - lie classily. The nature of the smartwatch, its small screen in particular, means that it's never going to be used for anything actually reasonable. You can't game with it, Facebook with it, or do any of the things that make owning a smartphone an experience of any value. Or so we thought.
SkinTrack is the solution
A few good folks over at Carnegie Mellon University's Human-Computer Interaction Interface Group disagreed. Turns out they went all out to find a way to control your smartwatch with the most readily available thing — your skin. The program, SkinTrack, effectively turns your arm into a biological touchpad by means of high-frequency electronic signals transmitted by a ring which senses pressure on the arm region and relays it to a sensing band on the smartwatch itself.
This technology is not as innovative as you'd think, with previous forays being functional but impractical — the use of cameras, overlays, interactive textiles and other non-micro technology making for a rather clunky setup. With SkinTrack, however, the problem of size and ease is wholly dealt with, with the only accompanying requirement being a ring which is to be worn just like any other ring. This rings works by sending out electrical signals which detect when a finger is brought to the surrounding region. So impressive is this piece of technology that tests have shown a 99% degree of accuracy when reading if the finger was in contact at all, and less than an 8mm margin of error for the exact point of contact — figures that wouldn't look out of place if associated with a regular touchpad.
SkinTrack does almost everything - Yes, almost
If you thought that simple flicks and taps were all SkinTrack was good for, you'd be wrong. The technology over does itself, walking past the limits of ordinary touchpads and heading down the road of the ridiculous. SkinTrack allows the users to play games, although games involving extremely precise controls would probably be better enjoyed on a proper device. Games like Angry Birds are fair game, though. Apart from that, it allows the user to do an assortment of things, like launch apps by drawing letters — Smart Gestures, and even doodling, a feature only possible because it supports continuous tracking.
That's not even the coolest part; this is where SkinTrack does the impossible. It allows you to create shortcuts of apps on your body. That's right, in the same way you can drag an app icon to your homepage to create an accessible shortcut, SkinTrack allows you to say, drag the Instagram app icon to your elbows, shoulders, etc. The app can then be launched by tapping the spot with the finger wearing the ring. It literally turns your entire body into a smartphone.
While SkinTrack has shown no notable harm to the human body — those signals are no more powerful than the signals emitted by any of the electronics around you after all — there have been a few minor issues, most notable being its inability to differentiate between pressure caused by a finger's touch and other forms of pressure exerted when the arm moves.
SkinTrack may not be perfect right now, but it's a step in the direction. It keeps our dream of a world where our smartwatches are more than fashion statements alive.