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Wearable Technology Insights
Posted on November 01, 2017

Mobile on-body devices controlled using a tiny sensor

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Mobile devices, such as the new version of the Apple Watch, are used for a variety of activities. They read short messages on them, surf the Internet and check health information. But these mini-computers have a drawback: Due to the small screen size, they are difficult to operate. Computer scientists from the University of the Saarland have now developed an alternative that they call "DeformWear". A tiny switch, no bigger than a pinhead, for example, is incorporated into a ring and worn on the body. It can be moved, pushed in and out in all directions and additionally pushed to the right, left, up and down.
 
"For mobile devices such as the smartwatch, the interactive screens are so small that you can only trigger a few control commands with a single touch," explains Jürgen Steimle, professor of human-machine interaction at the University of Saarland. With his research group "Multimodal Computing and Interaction", he is looking for new ways to operate small mobile devices on the body as inconspicuously and quickly as possible. In an earlier research project, Steimle, together with his colleague Martin Weigel, has already demonstrated that human skin is also suitable for input. During this study, they got the idea for the current project. "We found out that our study participants not only performed the familiar smartphone gestures from the skin, but also moved the skin or even squeezed it with two fingers in order to use mobile devices," reports Martin Weigel.
 
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Further research led them to a sensor that is supposed to make robot hands more sensitive. "Although the sensor was designed for robotics, we found the low form factor promising for body-worn mobile devices," explains Weigel. Low form factor describes in this case a diameter of only ten millimeters large sensor, which has the size of a pea and how a balloon is deformable. From the inside, an infrared light emitting diode illuminates the changeable membrane. The light is reflected and measured by four photodiodes. From this measurement can be calculated how the sensor is being deformed.
 
To test their idea, researchers integrated this sensor into a ring, bangle, and a charm barely larger than a 50-cent piece. The challenge now was to develop gestures to control mobile devices. The researchers did this for a smartwatch and virtual reality glasses. They also defined sequences of movements to control a TV and play music without looking at the device. The Saarbrücken computer scientists had this tested by 24 people, a total of 18,141 times. Your results were clear. "Despite the tiny surface, the interactions are precise and expressive as they exploit the exact motor skills of the fingertip, using the three basic forms of pushing, pushing and pinching," said Weigel.
 
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Professor Jürgen Steimle is convinced: "If only a tiny sensor has to be deformed for input, devices can be worn on the body to enable quick and unobtrusive operation. This will help the industry bring even smaller control devices to the market. "
 
Source and top image: Saarland University~
Learn more at the next leading event on the topic: Wearable USA 2018 External Link on 14 - 15 Nov 2018 at Santa Clara Convention Center, CA, USA hosted by IDTechEx.