‘New in Wearable Technology’:

Thumbnail Track Pad


There’s a growing desire to be able to personalize our devices. And also, to make them more appealing to wear. The Apple Watch must be the ultimate example that shows us that current wearable technology gets smaller and thinner, and even closer to the human body. More and more, we want our devices to be compatible making subtle integrations, as such operating in a little ecosystem.

For some time it has been interesting to be able to display and control devices ‘on the go’ or completely handsfree. Two Ph.D. students at the MIT Media Lab are developing a new sensor device which may be the smallest wearable device yet, one that turns your thumbnail into a wireless miniature track pad. How discrete can it be?

Their prototype — called NailO — could operate digital devices or augment other device interfaces. In order to build it they need to find a way to pack capacitive sensors, a battery, and three separate chips — a microcontroller, a Bluetooth radio chip, and a capacitive-sensing chip — into a space no larger than a thumbnail. It works as a X-Y coordinate touch pad for a smartphone.

NailO allows for swipe gestures and can be used as remote controller for one-handed input. Actions such as scrolling recipes online while cooking or chord tabs when playing the guitar would make this new wearable particularly handy when you don’t have your hands free. Also, they aim to make the device energy efficient, so that it is deactivated when not actually in use.

Why they choose the thumbnail as the site for a wearable input device? It’s a hard surface with no nerve endings, so a device that is attached to it would cause the least discomfort. And it’s easily accessed by the other fingers. It looks somewhat like a bandage, but it may be an appealing consumer device in the future that can be personalized with a top nail-art layer.

Watch the video here!

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