MIT develops wireless trackpad for your thumbnail

Tiny wireless device is still a prototype, but brings a new way to control electronics

A prototype thumbnail-size wearable trackpad developed by researchers at MIT

A prototype thumbnail-size wearable trackpad developed by researchers at MIT

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a tiny wireless trackpad that can be worn on a thumbnail.

Called NailO, the prototype trackpad is similar to the stick-on nails sometimes used as a fashion accessory. It attaches to the user's thumb and can be controlled by running a finger over its surface.

The researchers say an advantage of the device is that it's discrete. Running a finger over a thumbnail is a natural activity, so most people wouldn't notice this as a deliberate action to control a device.

It can also be an easier control option than a traditional trackpad or mouse in some situations.

In a video demonstrating the device, it's shown being used to scroll through a recipe while the wearer's hands are otherwise occupied holding spoons while preparing food.

The processor, battery, sensing chip and Bluetooth radio are included on a circuit board that sits under the capacitive trackpad. The two are connected via a small ribbon cable, which means the trackpad is not quite as thin as a stick-on nail, but reducing the size is one of the aims of the researchers.

Researchers are looking to consolidate the components into a single chip, which will make it smaller and reduce power consumption, said Artem Dementyev, a graduate student in media arts and sciences and one of the developers. And they are already talking to manufacturers in China about a battery that could fit in the space of a thumbnail and is only half a millimeter thick.

Details of the prototype will be presented at next week's Computer Human Interaction conference in Seoul, South Korea.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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Tags popular scienceMassachusetts Institute of TechnologyCHI

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