Computer scientists at the University of St Andrews have developed a new input method for smartwatches, which could transform the way we use and control our smart wearables. The technology is called WatchMI, and in a nutshell, it allows the wearer of a smartwatch to control the device using a much wider range of touch and gesture controls compared to regular smartwatches. The system uses existing sensors generally used by most smartwatches (accelerometer and gyroscope), meaning that the technology could theoretically be used in conjunction with most smartwatches existing on the market.
Touch and gesture-based controls have transformed mobile phones into what we now call “smartphones”, or at least they have contributed to this outcome along with increasingly powerful internal hardware for unprecedented mobile computing power. In other words, touchscreens and motion sensors have become key elements in smart technology, and of course these key components have also been adopted by the smartwatch market. On the other hand, given the fact that smartwatches have a considerable smaller display compared to smartphones, controlling these devices through touch input is not necessarily the ideal method. Some devices – like the Apple Watch – mitigate this issue by implementing a physical crown, whereas the Samsung Gear S2 sports a rotating bezel. However, WatchMI aims to push touch and gesture based controls to a different level, allowing users to perform a variety of gestures, such as panning or twisting the watch face to perform functions like scrolling between menus, panning and zooming into Maps, or even controlling video game characters. The system can also detect pressure and thus it can be used for texting. For instance, instead of tapping repeatedly on digit “6” to switch between letters “m”, “n” and “o” on a keypad, users can instead apply more pressure on the watch face to switch between the letters.
It’s also interesting to note that the researchers can eliminate the need to touch the display entirely when controlling WatchMI, by using conductive materials that act as touch sensors outside the area of the screen. There are quite a few other interesting functions that haven’t been mentioned in this article, but you can see all the details in the demo video below. The developers of WatchMI will showcase the technology at MobileHCI 2016 in September, and they hope to catch the attention of Google’s Android Wear division.