Wireless Trackpad Looks Like Fingernail Polish

All hands are on deck over at MIT where a very handy new trackpad has been created that will be able to give users a free hand to do other tasks. The device is called the NailO and attaches to one’s thumbnail, which allows the user an easy and reportedly natural way to use a trackpad while your hands are full, dirty, or otherwise occupied.

The device reportedly works like any normal trackpad, but is about the size of a quarter and attaches to the thumbnail in such a way that it takes advantage of the natural motion of running an index finger over the thumbnail. It communicates via Bluetooth radio, and has four layers which all go hand-in-hand: an artistic covering (to replicate the look of a painted fingernail), the sensors, the circuitry, the battery, and presumably an adhesive of some sort.

Details are quite sparse, but the device is scheduled to make its debut at the Computer Human Interaction conference in Seoul, South Korea very soon. If it can be made less bulky (although it’s somewhat uncomfortable to call something smaller than a quarter “bulky”) this might be, hands down, the next greatest evolution in mouse technology since multi-touch. We have to hand it to MIT for coming up with such a unique wearable!

29 thoughts on “Wireless Trackpad Looks Like Fingernail Polish

          1. Yeah! And imagine if in the future we could bioengineer genes to let you “grow your own” sensors for light and sound and smell and feelings, and have those genes spliced into your DNA so you wouldn’t have to wear any electronics at all? Hell, maybe you could even have babies born that way. Pretty far-fetched concept I admit.

          2. @macw: Haven’t you already grown yours? Kidding aside, I guess I see your point, but wouldn’t a device to just read directly from your own sensory nerves be better than growing separate ones?

        1. I would hardly call that a contact display.
          It was just a single LED, your would need a very large array for any kind of display and a nanocontroller/driver.
          The last person’s comment about google glass — it probably the right way to go.
          Also, I don’t think the average person is going to want to stick (or have to mount) large coils to their face.

  1. would make more sense to run the thumb over the side of the index finger. bending the index finger back and up like is necessary to touch the top of the thumbs nail for long periods is far from natural.

    1. As the design goes, it’s pretty much “not limited” to where you want to stick that thing. Heck, I have even imagined having one so small it’s inside my mouth, and use my tongue for control.

      1. Why not take it one step further? Make it into a tongue ring. The top can have most of the sensors (accelerometers, an actual trackball, etc) and the length of it could serve as an antenna to send the signals to a USB port receiver.

      1. The IBM nipple? You just have to get used to it, it’s the best er, thing, I ever used to move a pointer around. I miss my old Thinkpad. I think you can get desktop keyboards with one in, but they’re not cheap.

        I had the same thought last night, a ring you wear on your index finger, with an IBM nipple (Trackpoint) pointing upwards, when you make a fist. Use the agile thumb to work it, and there’s your control for your Google glasses or whatever. A couple of sense-buttons on the other hand would be the buttons.

    1. You could easily do that in software with a small track pad. You wouldn’t have the tactile feedback, but also wouldn’t have the added mechanical complexity and bulk.

  2. Excellent idea, but improperly executed in my opinion. When most people use a trackpad, they position there thumb out of the way for dexterity. Having the trackpad on the thumb means that left-right movements of the index finger will need to be a joined effort by the thumb and index finger. (try it yourself: hold your thumbnail under your index finger and try to move your index finger left-right….your thumb moves instead doesn’t it?). However, if the trackpad was on the side of the index finger facing the thumb, you could use your thumb like you would control a joystick and the thumb has much greater freedom of movement which also means less stress on finger joints. Being on the thumb would take some getting used to as it’s less “natural”, but I think other ergonomic options should be usable with the product’s design. (might already be)

  3. Damn. I thought of something similar years back, but didn’t do anything about it.

    The entire human body is a playground of regions with particular strengths and weaknesses for user input.

    The tricky part about using the index/thumbnail is that the index and thumb are nearly perpendicular. This means it’s more comfortable to use each finger for it’s respective axis of movement. This makes moving in diagonals, circles, etc. more challenging than you might expect because you have to coordinate your fingers (pun intended?). Also, fatigue is a factor since you are not activating any larger muscle groups to help out.

    The conclusion I came to from this thought experiment was that eye tracking is still the best choice as it’s hands-free and your eyes are evolved for the task of tracking and holding positions in space for extended periods of time (all day) so much better than any other part of the body. Maybe touching fingers in particular combinations is better suited to mouse buttons/macros, though. Consciously blinking gets very tiring very quickly.

    1. Yeah, but I don’t want my eye movements tracked, or else sidebar advertisers would know I really do look at their ads, especially that T-shirt company that used to advertise here before the overlords came and banished them.

    2. Ditto. I came up with a wireless thumb-pad for a college project back in 1996. I always thought it would be quite tiring to use after a while though. Amazing seeing it alive after all these years.

    1. I did see that. The separate layers add quite a bit of bulk, especially the battery. They mention at the end of the article that it could be made thinner with higher quality, smaller, lower capacity batteries, and by integrating everything into a custom chip.
      Still, even at that thickness, it would be a sweet interface to keep clipped to the top or bottom of you phone until it needs use.

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