Carnegie Mellon Can Turn Your Beautiful Skin Into a Vast Smartwatch Trackpad

This is a clever way to make the most of a smartwatch screen.


Smartwatches are nifty tools, but there’s not much to do with such small screen real estate. Researchers at the Future Interfaces Group (FIG), an organization within the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, claim they’ve found a solution that turns a user’s entire arm into a trackpad for a smartwatch.

Smartwatches, since their inception, have suffered from two opposite and opposing problems: The screen is too small and the watch is too big. FIG has a solution for the former, but the prototype makes the watch bigger than ever.

Using four sensors, two in the band and two placed vertically along the watch face, FIG’s prototype watch is capable of tracking a finger’s x and y axis movement along the space of a user’s arm to the left and right of the watch. These sensors, however, do have to coordinate with a ring worn on the opposite hand, but if that doesn’t bother you, there are some pretty amazing gestures that enhance the smartwatch experience and get those greasy fingers off the screen.

There are basic swipe features that let users switch between apps. Simply swipe up and down on your wrist to scroll through a list of apps and swipe toward your hand to select it.


Apps on the watch face can even work in tandem with the arm track pad. FIG calls this “Spacial Shortcuts,” which allow users to drag and drop icons from the watch onto their arm and simply tap that same area on their skin to quickly launch apps.


The prototype watch is also able to play games: In the video, you see the demonstrator drawing back the Angry Birds slingshot on the surface of their arm.


FIG boasts that the sensors can even track a finger hovering above the skin, as well, enabling number pads for dialing a phone or inputting text on a keyboard.


Basically, any on-screen gestures can instead be on-skin gestures.


Carnegie Mellon showed off a smartwatch last year that could detect the type of objects it was touching, a joint research project with Disney. As with that prototype, there’s no indication that the SkinTrack technology will be coming to a consumer smartwatch any time soon, though its student creators will present it on May 10 at this year’s Human-Computer Interaction in San Jose.

Check out the full SkinTrack explainer video below.

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