Frequent readers of this site will know that I’m particularly interested in the problem of user interfaces to control wearable (and implanted) devices. Keyboards, buttons, touch screens, speech recognition, and gesture interfaces all have potential, but they also present some significant limitations.

Researchers with the Future Interfaces Group (FIG) at Carnegie Mellon University may have come up with an elegant solution. Their SkinTrack technology turns your skin into a touchpad. It works by producing a faint electrical signal with a ring on a finger of one hand. When you press that finger to the skin of your opposite forearm, electrodes in a wristband detect the signal and can infer the location of your finger. It can not only detect a touch, but it can also detect a hover. This makes it possible to provide feedback to the user before issuing a command, such as dialing a number on a virtual keypad. The system even works through clothing so you don’t have to roll up your sleeves to make it work.

This technology could be incorporated on any wearable device that contacts the user’s skin. It provides a lot more “real estate” for motion, solving the problem of the limited space on a wearable display. It’s not a perfect solution, but it does provide another means for users to control wearable devices that has some significant advantages.