Just imagine, you had to turn the recipe page on your laptop or tablet while you are preparing a meal or you have to send a message while attending a meeting. Sounds difficult isn’t it? Not anymore… The researchers have come up with a novel solution that allows discreet one-handed input via a surface that’s always readily available. Yes it’s useful in situations where gestures or speech input could be considered impolite or inappropriate, or both hands are busy.
A new wearable device called NailO, is a Bluetooth trackpad that’s temporarily adhered to the user’s thumbnail and can be controlled by running an index finger over its surface. Inspired by decorative nail stickers, NailO involves multilayered miniaturized hardware that wirelessly transmits data, via Bluetooth, to a mobile device or PC. The NailO uses the same capacitive technology as smartphone screens and connects via Bluetooth to parent devices.
NailO consists of a battery, capacitive sensors, a microcontroller, a Bluetooth radio chip and a capacitive-sensing chip packed into the tight quarters. These components work together to send information wirelessly to your smart device or PC through Bluetooth. It is so small and lightweight that it can be stuck onto a user’s thumbnail.
It is user friendly. I.e. to use it, users first power it up by maintaining finger contact with it for two or three seconds. They then move their index finger up, down, left or right across its surface, guiding the mouse on the paired computer. To select something on screen, they just press their finger down.
The main advantage of the device is that it’s discrete. Running a finger over a thumbnail is a natural activity, so most people wouldn’t notice this as a deliberate action to control a device. This technology could let users control wireless devices when their hands are full like answering the phone while cooking. It could also augment other interfaces, allowing someone texting on a cell phone, for example, to toggle between symbol sets without interrupting his or her typing. Finally, it could enable subtle communication in circumstances that require it, such as sending a quick text to a child while attending an important meeting.
You would be thinking why thumbnail, answer is so simple… It’s a hard surface with no nerve endings, so a device affixed to it wouldn’t impair movement or cause discomfort. Also it’s easily accessed by the other fingers, even when the user is holding something in his or her hand.
For the initial prototype, the team built their sensors by printing copper electrodes on sheets of flexible polyester. That allowed them to experiment with a range of electrode layouts, but now they’re using off-the-shelf sheets of electrodes like those found in some touchpads.
According to authors Cindy Hsin-Liu Kao, an MIT graduate student, the device was inspired by the colourful stickers that some women apply to their nails. They are looking for a commercial version of their device having a detachable membrane on its surface, so that users could coordinate surface patterns with their outfits.
Researchers are looking to consolidate the components into a single chip, which will make it smaller and reduce power consumption. And they are already talking to manufacturers in China about a battery that could fit in the space of a thumbnail and is only half a millimetre thick. NailO users would ultimately be able to map gestures to specific actions (left thumbnail swipe = Call Mom, for example).
In a video demonstrating, it is shown being used to scroll through a recipe while the wearer’s hands are otherwise occupied holding spoons while preparing food.
You won’t be able to get a NailO of your own for some time but there is a prototype showing a hope… This unobtrusive wearable sensor could operate digital devices or augment other device interfaces in future. Anyways it’s one of the more innovative and unusual wearables we’ve seen in recent months turning our nails into a trackpad and making us a part of computer….