A team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a new wearable device that can turn the user’s thumbnail into a wireless track pad.
Dubbed NailO, the miniature wearable connects to smartphones, tablets and laptops via Bluetooth. It contains capacitive sensors, a battery, microcontroller, Bluetooth radio chip, and capacitive-sensing chip. The wearable device can be easily attached to the user’s thumb and can be controlled by running a finger over its surface.
The device’s makers claim that the wearable will come in handy when users have their hands full or want to
communicate discreetly – answering the phone call while cooking, for instance. Furthermore, it could enable subtle communication in circumstances that require it, such as sending a quick text to a child while attending an important meeting.
“It’s very unobtrusive. When I put this on, it becomes part of my body. I have the power to take it off, so it still gives you control over it. But it allows this very close connection to your body,” said lead author Cindy Hsin-Liu Kao, a graduate student at the MIT.
Kao said the device was inspired by the colorful stickers that some women apply to their nails.
The researchers envision that a commercial version of their device would have a detachable membrane on its surface, so that users could coordinate surface patterns with their clothes.
For the initial prototype, the researchers built their sensors by printing copper electrodes on sheets of flexible polyester. The makers claim that two or three seconds are enough for surface contact with the user’s finger to guard against inadvertent activation and deactivation.
The research team will present paper prototype of the device at the Computer-Human Interaction 2015 conference in Seoul, South Korea this week.