Developed by Carnegie Mellon University’s Future Interfaces Group, Skin Buttons are touch-sensitive projected icons made on a user’s skin.
While smartwatches are a promising new interactive platform, their small size makes even basic actions cumbersome. As a result, the Carnegie Mellon team has designed a new way to “expand the interactive envelope around smartwatches, allowing human input to escape the small physical confines of the device.”
Using tiny laser projects that are integrated into the smartwatch to render touch-sensitive icons allows for the expansion of the interaction region without increasing device size, and more importantly, sacrificing precious real estate on a wearer’s arm.
“Maybe in 15 or 20 years you’ll have a device that’s as powerful as a smartphone but has no screen at all,” explained Chris Harrison, Head of the Future Interfaces Group. “Instead it’s like a little box of matches that you plunk down on the table in front of you and now all of a sudden that table it interactive. Or a watch that’s screen-less. You could just snap your fingers and you whole arm becomes interactive.”
The proof-of-concept implementation can be used for a range of applications, many of which typically found on a mobile device, such as accessing music, reading emails and text messages, as well as checking the time or setting an alarm.
The prototype smartwatch contains four fixed-icon laser projectors along with accompanying infrared proximity sensors. These are connected to an ATmega328P based Femtoduino board, which communicates over USB with a host computer. Additionally, a 1.5-inch TFT LCD display is driven from a host computer. While the team used an external computer for prototyping, it appears that a commercial model would be self-contained.
“If you put a button on your skin, you expect people to be like, “What the, this is totally insane!” Harrison told Wired. “But actually people don’t generally react like that. People think it’s cool but they get over the coolness really fast and just start using it.”
Interested in learning more? You can access the team’s entire paper here, or head over to the Future Interfaces Group’s official website.