Toss the touchscreen, never mind the mouse, and shut up about voice commands—when it comes to controlling and interacting with the embedded computing devices that make up the Internet of Things, the way of future is wearables. From muscle-sensing armbands to gesture-recognizing rings, how we adorn and move our bodies is increasingly synonymous with our use of technology. And as product designs move beyond clunky prototypes and into the world of fashion, IoT devices are taking on a variety of unexpected form factors…like, say, a trackpad that lives on your thumbnail.
NailO is the creation of graduate student Cindy Hsin-Liu Kao and colleagues at the MIT Media Lab. Using the same capacitive-touch technology found in smartphone screens, they created a miniature trackpad that can be worn like a press-on fake nail. Easily accessed by the other fingers, the pad transmits swipes, taps and other gestures to another device via Bluetooth.
Though still closer to “clunky prototype” than high-fashion accessory, an eventual commercial version could be decorated with swappable designs. Kao was inspired by the fingernail-art stickers popular in Taiwan, which gave her the idea to explore the user interface possibilities of a device that could live on her thumbnail.
“It’s very unobtrusive,” Kao says. “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.”
Kao and another graduate student, Artem Dementyev, worked with their advisors to create NailO. Dementyev focused on a hardware design that could pack multiple processors, touch sensors, a radio antenna and a battery into a device that would sit comfortably on a thumbnail; Kao tackled the software to translate the sensor data into recognizable commands and gestures.
Before NailO is ready for commercial production, the design will have to be refined to maximize its capabilities while making it even thinner, more natural, and durable enough for everyday use. The group is considering ways to combine various components into a smaller, customized chip design. They’re also in talks with a battery manufacturer that may be able to provide a power cell only half a millimeter thick.
To learn more about NailO, check out the video below.