Brilliant Mod Makes Smartwatches Actually Useful

Back in October, an analysis of the smartwatch industry found that sales were plummeting. That was quickly rebuffed by a different analysis that said sales were rising. One thing is for sure, smartwatches are boring. But this one is pretty awesome.

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Using a custom smartwatch kernel, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have altered the sampling rate of a smartwatch accelerometer to 4 kHz rather than the standard 100Hz. This 3900 percent increase opens up a whole world of applications utilizing bioacoustic signals.

For one, the modded watch can facilitate Minority Report-style gestures for using interfaces. One application allows the lights in a room to be turned on with a snap, adjusted for brightness with a rotating pinch and confirmed with a flick. Another app allows a viewer to browse video services on television with a wave and make a choice with a snap. Admittedly, that one looks a lot slower than using a controller.

Image: Gierad Laput
Image: Gierad Laput

What’s more interesting is the ability to identify grasped objects. A user can tune a guitar based on the vibrations being felt through the hand turning the pegs. A recipe application walks someone through the preparation of chocolate chip cookies and shows a progress bar for how long the chef should beat the eggs. And a Nerf gun can display the ammo load on the watch screen in real time.

The final implementation of the mod uses structured vibrations that are programmed into an acoustic tag, allowing for undetectable objects to be recognized. In one example, an office nameplate has been fitted with a tag, including a person’s contact details, and these details are transmitted to the smartwatch just by touching the nameplate.

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Surely, smartwatch makers have these types of applications in mind for the future. Those manufacturers need to get on it and start showing the public what’s possible because being able to see text messages on your wrist just isn’t that exciting.

[Future Interfaces Group]

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DISCUSSION

Scorpion101

As soon as I saw Google’s Project Soli I thought smartwatches would be a perfect for allowing gesture input. This is the first time I’m seeing a smartwatch used as input for a computer. I do think Apple for example is seriously working on improving their sensors for tracking strength training exercises which in turn could be used for either interfacing with the Apple Watch itself or another computer.

I do question the usability and ergonimc aspects of this. Physical bandwidth is much higher than using a mouse for example. It is apart of the reason I bet Apple decided to put a Touch Bar on the new MacBook Pro instead of making the screen have multi-touch. People don’t like to have their arms up in the air for long durations unless they are doing something really compelling that a mouse can’t do; Oculus Touch or Vive’s controllers for example.