Your Hand Makes Phonecalls With Skinput

Posted on April 21, 2010 by .

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You can make calls from your hand with Skinput.

You can make calls from your hand with Skinput.

Imagine mobile phones were the size of matchboxes. Full-sized keyboards, Internet access and videos, but you’d never ever have to touch them. Sound like a futuristic sci-fi movie? Maybe not!

A graduate at Carnegie Mellon University and a former intern at Microsoft’s Redmond research lab, Chris Harrison has developed a prototype of a system called Skinput that essentially turns a person’s hand and forearm into a keyboard and screen.

Using Skinput, a person could amazingly tap their thumb and middle finger together to answer a call; touch their forearm to go to the next track on a music player; or flick the center of their palm to select a menu item. All of these sign-language-like movements, which are customizable, would control a gadget in a person’s pocket through a Bluetooth connection. When fitted with a pico-projector, the Skinput system could display an image of a digital keyboard on a person’s forearm. So, using Skinput, someone could send text messages by tapping his or her arm in certain places – without pulling the phone out. The system, which has been under development for eight months, won’t be commercially available for two to seven years.

Take a look at two videos that explain Skinput’s capabilities.

Your Body as a Touchscreen Video

Skinput: Appropriating the Body as an Input Surface (CHI 2010) Video

According to Harrison the accuracy of the deivice is good, but it’s not quite consumer-level yet. Skinput is one of a number of prototypes, ideas and near-products aiming to make computing more natural. These devices seek to move beyond the mouse and physical keyboard, letting people communicate with their gadgets by gesturing, using sign language or, in the case of Skinput, tapping on their hands, fingers and forearms.

Understanding how Skinput works makes it seem all the more futuristic. The system turns a person’s arm and hand into a wiggling, pulsating instrument, full of vibrations that can be picked up and translated.

Skinput users wear an armband – the prototype version is made of an elbow brace – that’s lined with 10 sensors. These sensors look like tiny diving boards with dumbbells on one end, and they pick up inaudible sounds that range in frequency from 25 to 78 hertz. When a Skinput user taps a thumb and middle finger together, the impact sends ripples down the skin and through the bones in the person’s arm. “They sort of start resonating — like guitar strings,” Harrison said. The diving-board receivers read the sound waves to figure out what gesture the person made, and then relay that information to a phone.

Skinput can tell whether a person tapped a middle finger or an index finger, because the two moves sound slightly different to the springy receivers. The system takes one or two minutes to learn the sounds of a particular person’s arm, and then it can be used however the user likes.

The most profound achievement of Skinput is proving that the human body can be used as a sensor. A person might walk toward their home, tap their palm to unlock the door and then tap some virtual buttons on their arms to turn on the TV and start flipping through channels.

What do think about this latest technology? How would you like to have your body as a touchscreen?

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