Controlling This Smartwatch is All in the Wrist

Smartwatches are pretty great. In theory, you’ll never miss a notification or a phone call. Plus, they can do all kinds of bio-metric tracking since they’re strapped to one of your body’s pulse points. But there are downsides. One of the major ones is that you end up needing two hands to do things that are easily one-handed on a phone. Now, you could use the tip of your nose like I do in the winter when I have mittens on, but that’s not good for your eyes. It seems that the future of smartwatch input is not in available appendages, but in gesture detection.

Enter WristWhirl, the brain-child of Dartmouth and University of Manitoba students [Jun Gong], [Xing-Dong Yang], and [Pourang Irani]. They have built a prototype smartwatch that uses continuous wrist movements detected by IR proximity sensors to control popular off-the-shelf applications. Twelve pairs of dirt-cheap IR sensors connected to an Arduino Due detect any of eight simple gestures made by the wearer to do tasks like opening the calendar, controlling a music player, panning and zooming a map, and playing games like Tetris and Fruit Ninja. In order to save battery, a piezo senses pinch between the user’s thumb and forefinger and uses this input to decide when to start and stop gesture detection.

According to their paper (PDF warning), the gesture detection is 93.8% accurate. To get this data, the team had their test subjects perform each of the eight gestures under different conditions such as walking vs. standing and doing either with the wrist in watch-viewing position or hanging down at their side. Why not gesture your way past the break to watch a demo?

If you’re stuck on the idea of playing Tetris with gestures, there are other ways.

[via Embedded Lab]

11 thoughts on “Controlling This Smartwatch is All in the Wrist

  1. The problem with wristwatches is that there’s no realistic use case. It’s a solution in search of a problem.

    Yes, a few people find it convenient to be silently buzzed when they get an E-mail, so they can glance at it while in a meeting.

    This is not a strong argument, though. Most everything you can do on a wristwatch can be done better on a smartphone.

    I think the right use case here would be medical monitoring. If you could log *everything* about the wearer’s health, and come up with alerts for things, then it would be supremely useful.

    So for purposes of discussion, suppose the watch could analyse the blood. Supposing, for instance, that a small artery were routed out of the wrist, into the watch where it could be analysed, and back again. I’m not suggesting that this be done, only that the information from this type of setup be available. *How* the information is measured is the issue.

    This would be extremely useful for a lot of things, including medical research. We could download the monitored histories of 50 heart attack victims, compare against 50 healthy subject, and look for differences. Or alert the wearer that they’re low on some specific vitamin.

    Insulin for diabetics is be an obvious use case. The problem is that measuring insulin through the skin is nigh impossible, and a lot of people have looked into doing it.

    Can we get around this limitation? Is there a way to monitor blood composition in a way that would be acceptable in a consumer product? Are there other health markers that could be easily monitored? Such as, for instance, infections; or the composition of lymph fluid?

    That would be the killer app for a wearable computer: a health monitoring sensor.

    (Apologies for starting off with a thoughtful discussion. I’m going to have my 1st cup of coffee right after hitting “post comment”.)

    1. What about a watch that automatically injects you with insulin at the right times for people with diabetes. Obviously it would give an alarm first so if it wasn’t convenient you could postpone your injection. I think this would be a good idea so long as you can inject insulin in the wrist area.

      1. They already make wearable insulin pumps. One glues it to his body using special sticky patch on device, and then activates it. Upon activation device stabs the patient with spring-loaded needle. IIRC, it delivers insulin at preprogrammed intervals and is good for few days…

        1. Ahh most of the ideas I have I end up finding out someone else already did it, It is quite annoying but not this time as this is something that will help people’s life quality and i am all for that.

    2. Actually, the use case for watches is that you glance at your wrist and you know the time. Yes you can do that with a smartphone but it takes a pocket and another hand.

      Now, a watch which requires you to use your other hand to activate it to see the time or whatever, that is useless; I have one of the nifty eight buck Shenzhen iWatch knockoffs and it would actually be pretty cute except for that flaw. And that’s the exact flaw the OP build is trying to answer; by using wrist gestures instead of pressing a button with your other hand, you can get use out of the watch while your other hand is occupied.

  2. I dare you to put on a long sleved shirt and a coat, and finally put on a backpack…snag-rip! The first things worn around parts of the body weren’t for looks but for property control. Enslaved!

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