A team of researchers from Carnegie Mellon University have created a prototype that could serve as a catalyst for change in how smartwatches are created and used. Robert Xiao, a Ph.D. candidate in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute, worked with five other researchers in conceiving and bringing to fruition an invention which seems straight out of a scene from Blade Runner.
Their research paper describes the contraption as a ‘compact, worn computer with a projected, on-skin touch interface’ a concept which has long been conceived but has proven far more difficult to successfully construct. Yet that’s what Xiao, a Qualcomm Innovative Fellow with a background in Computer Science and Combinatorics & Optimization was able to do, along with help from fellow students and advisors.
The ability to project the smartwatch’s input and output onto one’s skin allows a far easier and broader range of interaction with the device, which still contains the benefits presented by wearable technology. With roughly 40 square centimeters of interactive surface area, the Carnegie Mellon team’s device offers nearly five times the amount of interactive area than the typical smartwatch. With continuous 2D finger tracking, the arm essentially becomes the touchscreen, and the prototype appears to work far better – and with far fewer glitches – than you might imagine from a device yet to be released on the consumer market.
The electronics which allow the prototype to function, including a 1.2 GHz quad-core CPU, Bluetooth 4.0, a Wi-Fi controller, 768 MB of RAM and 4GB of flash memory in addition to a 15-lumen pico-projector module are contained within an aluminum shell that dissipates the heat generated from these components, the projector specifically. The graphics and display are powered by Android firmware. A 740 mAh, 3.8 V (2.8 Wh) lithium ion battery allows for the watch’s fully self-contained nature. They address the obstacle of an arm being neither flat nor perpendicular to the projector, two requirements typical of successful projection, through hardware design and software calibration.
It’s an entire computer, with battery that lasts a day, plus a projector for on-skin graphics, as well as a custom depth sensor that allows us to track touch input on the skin, Chris Harrison, head of FIG, told Digital Trends.
The LumiWatch is a prototype that is far beyond an impressive conceptualization, it’s a peek into one of, if not the, first functional iterations of what smart wearables will resemble in the not-so-distant future.