Technology of the near future: iArm?


Posted Thursday, September 23, 2010 - 4:42pm

This is a nerdy way to start an article, but does anyone remember that Nickelodeon cartoon called “Invader Zim”? Well, there is an episode where Zim, an alien bent on the destruction of the world, is fighting—as usual—with Dib, a paranoid human trying to stop Zim, and somehow, by the end of the episode, Dib’s sister, Gaz, ends up with her handheld game console inside her leg (yet she still plays on it, as she did in the beginning of the episode). This is a wide stretch, but that episode came to mind when I read about Skinput.

Skinput is where technology is heading. Have you ever wanted one of those spy watches that has a screen and that you can take calls from? Well Skinput is that watch—minus the watch. The technology of Skinput allows the user to tap areas of the fingers, hand and forearm to control gadgets like an iPod or iPhone OR it can make your arm your iPod and iPhone.

Chris Harrison, Skinput’s creator of Carnegie Mellon University, and his research team from Microsoft Research say, “the human body is the ultimate input device” and will trump high-tech touch screens and any other devices.

Harrison created Skinput using a seemingly complicated system of acoustic signals sounded through the human arm. He says that the anatomy of the arm makes it ideal for sound technology like the Skinput. Software and sensors are trained to differentiate between the sounds made by waves (created by poking the skin) bouncing off bones and tissues of the arm. Each unique sound point is given a function such as volume up and down, start and stop, scroll, click and so on—all by a touch of a finger, a twitch of a muscle or a pinch.

Wouldn’t it be hard to adjust to poking your arm instead of a plastic button? Harrison’s team estimates that mastering the workings of Skinput takes about 20 minutes. How, what makes it so easy to learn? “The wonderful thing about the human body is that we are familiar with it,” explains Harrison. “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.” This familiarity gives more accuracy compared to the mouse.

There is one simple question any child would ask—and I will: “why?” This invention came about because of a technological problem, “we are becoming the bottleneck” said Harrison. He is talking about the “miniaturization” of technology. For example, your phone cannot be humanly functional when it is the size of a button. Since we cannot text on a dime (physically), technology must remain larger and therefore a hassle to lug around in order to accommodate our Brobdingnagian phalanges.

To limit as much effort as possible, Skinput allows us to use the device without the weight or wasted space in our pockets and purses. Size is obsolete.

We now know that Skinput is meant to replace physical gadgets, but what is it supposed to do, exactly? According to the research team, you can call your grandma, text your lover, peruse the Internet, check your e-mail or failing grades, watch a movie, take a picture, listen to music, type a memoir, play a game, calculate your meager finances, connect your freckles, plus spy and hack into the Pentagon. I exaggerate, but your arm can do anything an iPhone and computer can do, it can even control other devices…

So you know that trick finger game “Whoop Johnny” or whatever it is called when you tap your fingers and slide down to your thumb? Well, the Skinput team gives a lengthy description to playing Tetris on your arm but I feel that “Whoop Johnny” is an easier explanation. If you Google Skinput, the first link should be Harrison’s site which includes a video of the Skinput prototype demonstration—yes, it is not just an idea—and you will understand why I liken it to “Whoop Johnny.”

I hope that you now understand all of my nerdy references, combine them and you have a spy watch in your skin which allows you to play Frogger using the motions in “Whoop Johnny.”

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