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MIT to create a thumb touchpad

  • Author:Abby
  • Release on:2015-05-04

Researchers at MIT have developed a new way of interacting with wireless devices—a trackpad that goes over a user’s thumbnail. The device, called NailO, could act as a more user-friendly and intuitive interface for wearables and other connected devices. One of the keys to the promise of the device is that it is very intuitive to use. Turning it on takes contact for a second or two, and it otherwise acts as a touchpad familiar to any user of a laptop.

The NailO includes a set of capacitive sensors, a battery, a microcontroller, a sensor chip and a Bluetooth radio. While building components small enough to literally fit on the tip of a finger was difficult, the most challenging part was in antenna design, according to one researcher.

The device is envisioned as a way to interact with a wireless device while otherwise occupied. One example the MIT team gave was answering a phone while cooking. Other use cases could be drawing on a tablet screen or quickly switching character sets while texting.

The device was inspired by fashion in many ways. As Cindy Hsin-Liu Kao, one of the new paper’s lead authors, the device was inspired by the colorful stickers that some women apply to their nails. It is not a stretch to imagine that one of the biggest problems with wearables – lack of fashion – will not be a problem for a product of this type. Instead of being a discrete piece of technology, it could conceivably be a cosmetic fashion accessory as much as an interface.