Wearable Tech interfaces are small, so how do you enlarge them? The Future Interfaces Group at Carnegie Mellon University may have a remarkable solution. The SkinTrack system uses your skin as an interface:
The SkinTrack wearable tech interface
Here’s how it works:
SkinTrack is a wearable system that enables continuous touch tracking on the skin. It consists of a ring, which emits a continuous high frequency AC signal, and a sensing wristband with multiple electrodes. Due to the phase delay inherent in a high-frequency AC signal propagating through the body, a phase difference can be observed between pairs of electrodes. SkinTrack measures these phase differences to compute a 2D finger touch coordinate.
As an interface enhancement, it’s low-cost, low-powered, and noninvasive. Even better, it works over your clothes so fabric and skin hair do not interfere. And it’s accurate, with a 99% accuracy rate. You do have to wear a ring to make the system functional, but that could be minimized with the right design.
SkinTrack could be integrated into a wide range of Smartwatches and fitness bands. For more details, you can download a paper.
Wearables need larger interfaces
Smartwatches and fitness bands are smaller than our smartphones and display space is at a premium. The small screens often limit you to four or less buttons. In some cases, you can only use directional swipes to control a device. With screens barely larger than our fingers, it’s a recipe for frustration.
There have been earlier attempts to use the skin as an interface, including the Cicret bracelet which uses a mini-projector. But its lack of a working prototype and the challenges of projecting a functioning display on your skin has a lot of people saying it’s just vaporware.
SkinTrack needs to resolve some challenges. There can be fluctuations in how your skin conducts current over the course of a day. The ring component needs to be continuously on which brings up battery issues. And changes in finger orientation can affect the reading. But from the paper, the challenges do not seem insurmountable.
Keep an eye on SkinTrack. It may be the solution to the miniature interfaces in our wearable tech.
Emory Craig is a writer, speaker, and VR consultant with extensive experience in art, new media, and higher education. He speaks at global conferences on innovation, education, and ethical technology in the future. He has published widely and worked with the US Agency for International Development, the United Nations, and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Living at the intersection of learning, games, and immersive storytelling, he is fascinated by AI-based avatars, digital twins, and the ethical implications of blurring the boundaries between the real and the virtual.