RetroShape smartwatch concept provides users with tactile feedback

This Dartmouth research group is thinking outside the watch face
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A smartwatch concept developed by a research group at Dartmouth allows wearers to experience games and videos with 3D touch.

RetroShape, which will now form part of Darmouth's offerings at UIST Symposium 2017 (User Interface Software and Technology), uses tactile pixels on the underside of the watch in order to extend the watch face's output, meaning the feeling of a ball bouncing on screen is felt in the same position on the wrist. And if you were watching a movie with an explosion, the same tactile pixels — known as taxels — would correspond to the position on the device.

Read this: Dartmouth smartwatch concept moves on your wrist

The project was undertaken to improve user experience with smartwatches, with the construction allowing developers to harness the same ability to match visuals and haptics together.

And while the smartwatch concept looks to explore an area of smartwatches, which currently only provides basic feedback, it's not the only piece of wearable tech submitted to the UIST by Dartmouth.

Frictio, a ring which uses six individual force profiles to help provide information to the user, will be featured, too. And while its applications are simpler than the RetroShape, users are still privy to the like of calendar reminders. For example, if a wearer had a meeting scheduled to begin in five minutes, the ring would not be able to move, whereas if the calendar was free the device would offer another force profile and be able to move around a finger with ease.

Like with most research concepts, the design element is far from fleshed out on both pieces of kit. However, the applications certainly have potential for wider exploration. Gaming and videos, as an example, aren't currently a big factor within smartwatches, but adding an extra dimension to the experience like RetroShape could help that change.

Until these ideas make their way to the mainstream, though, we'll continue dealing with basic haptics on our watches and wearing smart rings without force feedback.

RetroShape smartwatch concept provides users with tactile feedback

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Conor Allison


Conor moved to Wareable Media Group in 2017, initially covering all the latest developments in smartwatches, fitness trackers, and VR. He made a name for himself writing about trying out translation earbuds on a first date and cycling with a wearable airbag, as well as covering the industry’s latest releases.

Following a stint as Reviews Editor at Pocket-lint, Conor returned to Wareable Media Group in 2022 as Editor-at-Large. Conor has become a wearables expert, and helps people get more from their wearable tech, via Wareable's considerable how-to-based guides. 

He has also contributed to British GQ, Wired, Metro, The Independent, and The Mirror. 

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