Skin Buttons

If you have turned on your television or if you have read a newspaper in the last few weeks, you probably cannot have missed it: the smartwatch.

Apple, for instance, will launch its smartwatch – the Apple Watch – somewhere in early 2015.

As usual with new “revolutionary” devices, the first models are often still struggling with shortcomings. This is also the case with the smartwatches.

People reviewing the Apple Watch tell us, for example, the screen is too crowded with tiny icons (representing the applications), making it look chaotic and cumbersome to navigate through the menus.

“How do you make a watch bigger without actually making it bigger?” asks Gierad Laput, a PhD student at Carnegie Mellon in the Future Interfaces Group. His answer? Turn your arm into an extension of the watch.

Consequently, Skin Buttons was born!

Skin Buttons, tiny laser projectors integrated into the smartwatch to render icons on the user’s skin, seems an interesting idea!

The projected icons can be made touch sensitive, resulting in an expanded region to interact with, without increasing the physical device.

How does this exactly work?

The four laser diodes integrated in the watch are covered with a static piece of film that projects fixed icons. The watch is able to tell when a user touches an icon, by using infrared proximity sensors. This information is then communicated to the smart watch, which reacts as though you touched the screen directly.

While this expansion of the field of interaction is awesome and can be developed for a lot of practical applications (e.g. people with sight problems: the icons can be made as big as needed), what’s really interesting is when you consider products like Skin Buttons as stepping stones for improving (or replacing) screens.

Allow me to elaborate on that.

Chris Harrison, an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon and head of the Future Interfaces Group, says: “it’s only a matter of time before components are small enough and cheap enough that we can use LCDs to create dynamic buttons that change form and color”.

Of course, we are still a long way from there. But imagine the possibilities when we don’t need a screen anymore! We can just project our devices on walls, tables et cetera, you name it!

I can’t wait for the snowball effect to take off. In that case, I might have already one application for the technology from one of my favorite movies:




One response to “Skin Buttons”

  1. 331407t says :

    Hi Danny,

    I love the wearable revolution and these things are taking it to the next level. Of course, when you’re talking about the next level, there’s always a next next level to talk about. Neither Google Glass nor wearables, nor skin buttons, nor Google Lenses are gonna do it. This integration of our communication is not going to stop until it is in our brain. I wonder, where do you think this trend will take us next?
    Arthur C Clarke said it some 60 years ago, that everything we try to imagine is probably not enough to foresee what is actually coming. The revolution in chip-functionality is exactly what he was talking about. The possibilities are endless and the combination with improved laser technique would indeed make a James Bond-like projecting watch. Let’s hope it’s soon!

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