Smartwatches are exciting in theory — who hasn't dreamed of a future where you can check your email, order a pizza, and call home all from your wrist? In reality, though, smartwatches all have two contradictory problems: the watch is too big and the screen is too small. Now, a design from Carnegie Mellon University is turning that obstacle on its head.
Turn Your Skin Into a Touchscreen
Feast your eyes on SkinTrack, the latest prototype from the school's Future Interfaces Group, also known as FIG. Basically, they realized that the only way to make the touchscreen bigger without increasing the size of the watch would be to extend the screen beyond the watch itself. So that's exactly what they did. Your wrist becomes the touchscreen.
SkinTrack works thanks to a set of sensors mounted on the side and a ring you wear on your opposite hand. That's all it takes for the watch to be able to detect exactly where you're swiping, pressing, and gesturing. It opens the door to a whole suite of features that would be basically impossible on a watch-sized screen. Like, for example, drawing. How are you supposed to draw sunglasses on a picture of your cat if you've got to draw it with your giant finger on a screen the size of a silver dollar? But since SkinTrack knows where your finger is, you can draw those shades right on the back of your hand. Then just swipe up or right to move to your main screen or a different app.
But forget drawing. One of the features we're most excited about is a whole new way to keep your apps all in order. Basically, SkinTrack lets you drag Spotify to your elbow, Facebook to your mid-forearm, your fitness tracker to your wrist — you get the picture. Whatever configuration you end up with, you just have to tap on the section of your arm with the application to open it up on your phone. This is some serious "Minority Report" technology.
The No-Touch Touchscreen
SkinTrack isn't FIG's first attempt at a smartwatch where the screen is bigger than the watch. Check out the AuraSense, which doesn't even require a ring to track. Instead, it detects the electromagnetic fields that surround your fingers. In some ways, it's more advanced and exciting than the version that tracks the positions of your hands. Unfortunately, your electromagnetic field isn't that powerful — so it can really only tell when your finger is within a couple of centimeters. Still, both watches are proof that the future might involve teeny-tiny devices with screens that can't be contained.