Say you’re cooking dinner while reading a recipe on your laptop, tablet, or smartphone. You want to scroll down the page to see the next step, but your hands are tied up prepping food (or so messy that you don’t want to touch the screen and leave smudge marks all over it).
Researchers at the MIT Media Laboratory have a solution. It’s called NailO, and it’s a wearable Bluetooth trackpad that you can wear on your thumbnail. Just swipe the touch surface and it’ll send a command to scroll down the page.
You could also use it for other applications — switch tracks in a music app, pause video playback, swipe to answer an incoming phone call, or even enter text by tracing letters.
There are a few different methods for interacting with computers and mobile devices without actually touching them, ranging from voice controls to 3D gesture support that lets you wave your hands in front of the screen.
NailO is a relatively discrete solution since it doesn’t require you to speak out loud or gesticulate wildly. On the other hand, it does require you to wear a gadget on your thumb.
The NailO prototype features a microcontroller, Bluetooth radio and antenna, capacitive touch sensor, and a battery. To save power, the researchers are looking into ways to automatically turn the device off when it’s not in use and easily turn it on with an action such as touching the surface with a finger for two or three seconds to activate it.
The researchers are hoping to make the NailO even smaller in the future and point out that you can customize the look of the device by putting different designs on top of the touch surface, making the gadget look like nail art. Some people already put stickers on their fingernails, so why not put something useful underneath that sticker?
It’s not clear whether NailO or any related products will ever make it to market… especially if smartwatches really start to take off, since they offer another wearable surface that you might be able to use as a remote control for your phone or computer. But it’s always interesting to see new ideas for ways to interact with technology without using a mouse and keyboard.