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Device Turns Skin into Electronic Controller

March 26, 2010

A Ph. D. student at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania has developed a series of sensors that could allow you to control electronic devices.

The device, which is known as the “Skinput” system, involves using bio-acoustic sensors and a small projector that displays a menu, number pad, or similar device directly onto the surface of the skin. Software that comes with the system can be configured to detect different waves based on where the user touches, and then uses that information to complete a designated function.

In an interview with BBC News, Harrison, who was assisted on the project by Desney Tan and Dan Morris of Microsoft Research, called the human body “the ultimate input device.”

Taking advantage of a phenomenon known as proprioception, or the sense that indicates where various parts of the body are located in relationship to one another, the Skinput allows tech users to input commands directly on their skin — thus creating a controller that is relatively large, always available, and easily accessible at any time.

“The wonderful thing about the human body is that we are familiar with it,” Harrison told the BBC technology correspondent Mark Ward on Friday. “Proprioception means that even if I spin you around in circles and tell you to touch your fingertips behind your back, you’ll be able to do it. That gives people a lot more accuracy then we have ever had with a mouse.”

According to Ward, “Early trials show that after a short amount of training the sensor/software system can pick up a five-location system with accuracy in excess of 95-percent”¦ Accuracy does drop when 10 or more locations are used, said Mr. Harrison, but having 10 means being able to dial numbers and use the text prediction system that comes as standard on many mobile phones.”

Harrison’s official paper on the Skinput project will be released on April 12 as part of CHI 2010 (the Association for Computing Machinery’s annual Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems). CHI 2010 will be held from April 10 through April 15 in Atlanta, Georgia.

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