What’s most impressive about this touchscreen that knows the exact angle of the finger touching it is that it’s the same display hardware found in every smartphone on the market right now. Its special abilities are all enabled through software, meaning your own phone is already capable of this.
Apple wants you to believe that anything more advanced than a simple tap requires revolutionary new screen hardware, and an upgrade to your smartphone. But a Carnegie Mellon University spinoff called Qeexo might have just one-upped the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus’s 3D Touch capabilities—and instead of buying a new phone for the new feature, you’d just need to upgrade it.
The researchers behind FingerAngle developed a brand new algorithm that allows a smartphone to estimate the pose of a finger, in 3D, as it makes contact with a touchscreen. This includes its angle relative to the display, as well as any rotation of the finger while it’s making contact.
It’s subtle, but the shape of a fingertip while pressed against a glass display is very distinct based on what part of the finger is making contact, and its angle. And this is what the researchers rely on to determine a finger’s orientation relative to a touchscreen.
So why is this useful? To do on-screen rotations with a touchscreen currently requires the use of two moving fingers. But the tiny display on a device like a smartwatch barely has enough room for a single digit.
When using this new algorithm, smartwatches can actually detect a finger being rotated while it’s touching its display, even while the finger isn’t changing position on-screen. This is not only useful for rotating images, but also for rotating on-screen dials such as a volume control.
But let’s not forget the potential for revolutionizing mobile gaming as well. Instead of having to use sloppy on-screen touch controls for aiming, players could simply point their finger at the display, and then angle it towards whatever they were trying to hit.
There’s no timeline for when you might start seeing FingerAngle as a standard feature in Android or iOS. But since it’s all accomplished through clever software tricks, there’s no reason to believe it won’t appear in downloadable apps first. It’s all dependent on who’s willing to cough up the money to license this slick technology first.