The age of invisible wearable tech is almost here. As designers collaborate to make smartwatches fashionable and fitness trackers look like jewellery, MIT researchers are taking things one step further with NailO, a tiny trackpad for your thumbnail.
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Inspired by stick-on nail art from Asia, NailO is designed to let you wirelessly control other accessories or devices - such as scrolling through a recipe on a tablet or laptop or sending an automated text - in a subtle, natural way, by stroking your thumbnail with your forefinger.
It's much less obvious than tapping on a smartwatch screen atop your wrist, for instance, or using voice controls, and the aim is to remove the interruption from what you're doing and also the social awkwardness which some wearables can bring about.
The researchers also point out that the thumb is a hard surface with no nerve endings so it's a great spot for using an extension of your own body as an input device.
NailO is a capacitive touch device and the team plans to launch detachable layers so that the wearer can customise and personalise the pattern, as people already do with dumb nail art.
As well as the capacitive touch sensors, the thumbnail sized device has to fit in a microcontroller, a Bluetooth radio chip and a battery inside but the aim now is to further miniaturise the device by finding even smaller components and combining the chips.
Cindy Hsin-Liu Kao, one of the lead researchers on the project, told MIT News: ""It's very unobtrusive. 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."