Tiny, Ring-Like Device Allows for Control of Wearables

Researchers in Germany have developed tiny devices that can be worn on the body and work by deformation to control wearable devices.

Wearable technology is increasingly becoming popular in the form of fitness monitors and smartwatches. But due to their small surfaces, controlling wearables isn’t always user-friendly.

Enter an idea from researchers at Saarland University in Germany, which proposes to use tiny wearable devices that can be worn on the body and need only be manipulated by one finger to control different wearables from one interface.

Called DeformWear, the devices operate on what’s called “deformation input”—basically by using a small button with a variety of gestures, according to the pair of researchers who developed the technology—research leader Martin Wiegel, formerly of Saarland but now with Honda Labs, and Professor Jurgen Steimle of the Human-Computer Interaction Lab at Saarland University.

“Due to their small surfaces, wearable devices make existing techniques for touch input very challenging,” researchers wrote on a website about the technology. “We introduce DeformWear, tiny wearable devices that leverage single-point deformation input on various body locations. Despite the small input surface, DeformWear enables expressive and precise input using high-resolution pressure, shear, and pinch deformations.”



Researchers in Germany have developed tiny devices that can be worn on the body and work by deformation to control wearable devices. Called DeformWear the team from Saarland University said users can interact with the devices with precise and expressive techniques while it’s worn on the finger, around the neck as a pendant, or in other ways on the body. (Source: Human-Computer Interaction Lab, Saarland University)


The device itself is comprised of rubber half-sphere with a diameter of about 10 millimeters. Inside the half-sphere is an infrared LED that emits light onto its inside surface of the sphere, as well as four photodiodes that detect and measure the light as it reflects back from the surface.

Users interact with the device-- which can be worn on the finger as a cuff-like device, on a pendant worn around the neck, or in other ways--through a set of techniques specified by DeformWear’s developers.

DeformWear can be used as both a standalone input device or as a companion device for wearables such as smart watches, head-mounted displays, or headphones, researchers said.

“Results from a user study demonstrate that these tiny devices allow for precise and expressive interactions on many body locations, in standing and walking conditions,” they wrote on the site.

The team published a paper about their work online. In it, they describe the techniques for working with DeformWear to send different commands to wearable devices through wireless communications.

For instance, users can do the typical pressing on the input for one type of control, while something called shear deformations are created using a tangential force that the thumb or finger exerts on the upper side of the sensor, which offer two-dimensional control, according to researchers.

Users also can pinch the device to add another control aspect, with all three techniques combined creating “precision of three-dimensional deformation input [that] allows for a high degree of expressiveness on a tiny input surface,” Wiegel and Steimle wrote in their paper.

The team already has demonstrated successfully the capability of DeformWear to control several devices—both worn and external--including a smartwatch, a set of virtual-reality glasses, and a television.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 15 years.



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