Researchers from Carnegie Mellon are working on a smartwatch that would bypass the issue of small screens on smart timepieces by using the owner’s arm as an extension of the smartwatch. The researchers looked at devices like the Apple Watch, Moto 360 and LG G Watch R and found that the display real estate makes navigation cumbersome, unless you use voice commands, while buttons placed on watches make the timepieces bulky and annoying to use. With this in mind, they came up with the idea to create a smartwatch that could project additional buttons on the owner’s arm for easier navigation.
The Carnegie Mellon researchers want to make a bigger smartwatch, without actually increasing its size. The projecting technology they are working on might actually help them accomplish this feat. The researchers are part of the Future Interfaces Group at Carnegie Mellon and they recently published a paper that details how the group would try and project interactive buttons on skin in order to extend the limited display of their smartwatch. The team calls these buttons “Skin Buttons” and they can project them by embedding four laser diodes in the smartwatch. These diodes are covered in a piece of film that can aid in projecting icons onto the skin. Next, the smartwatch uses IR proximity sensors so that it can tell when a smartwatch user is interacting with the projected icons. These icons can be set to trigger mail, music and other apps, as well as act as arrows that you can use to scroll through the smartwatch user interface.
While the Skin Buttons created for the smartwatch are just prototypes, the Future Interfaces Group plans to create similar user interfaces that will actually connect you to bigger devices and in time, might make screens obsolete altogether. The plan is to use the smartwatch as a prototype for the skin buttons so that the team can work on making bigger surfaces interactive and create a different method of interaction between owners and their devices. While the group thinks they still have much work to do, the working prototype of the smartwatch shows us that a breakthrough is near, as long as manufacturers keep making components smaller.