VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Phones, makeup kiosks, car dashboards, televisions, rolls of paper, museum exhibits; it's hard to find something that hasn't been transformed into a computer interface device. Soon, the back of your hand will join that list, as a new device debuted here at the SIGGRAPH interactive technology conference can instantly convert a patch of skin into a multitouch controller for a computer.
Designed by Kei Nakatsuma, a researcher at the University of Tokyo Department of Information Physics and Computing, this new touch interface uses infrared sensor technology to track a finger across the back of a hand, as if it was a digital stylus or mouse. The device itself fits onto a wristwatch-sized band, giving users an adaptable computer control wherever they go.
"The advantage for using the back of your hand is that your skin can provide haptic (touch-based) feedback," Nakatsuma told InnovationNewsDaily.
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Unlike gesture technology, which lacks a physical object for orientation, or multitouch screens, which require the user to look at what they are touching, a user can simply feel their way around any controls on the back of their hand. This makes the back of the hand touch interface perfect for controlling a car function, managing a presentation, operating a phone while jogging or any other job that requires the user to keep their attention straight ahead.
Additionally, once infrared sensors become small enough, a sensor in a shirt sleeve or a bracelet could allow people to fully take advantage of ubiquitous computing by ensuring that everyone always has an interface device on their person at all times.
During a demonstration at SIGGRAPH, Nakatsuma used his back-of-the-hand interface to perform all the functions of a mouse. The device cannot yet handle more complex multitouch tasks, such as the "pinching" or "rotating" touch gestures used with smartphones, but the mouse functions should serve well enough for most computer tasks.
The current prototype also has problems working in direct sunlight. The infrared radiation in the light confuses the sensor, Nakatsuma said. However, fixing the sunlight issue, expanding the multitouch vocabulary to include pinching and reducing the size just a bit are all that stands between Nakatsuma's current model and the transformation of everyone's hand into a mouse.