Chirping ring and wristband could one day change wearables forever

15 May 2018

Image: silverkblackstock/Shutterstock

How we interact with wearables has proven to be problematic to say the least, but what if we could control them with just a hand gesture?

Smartwatches and other wearables were designed to make things easier when it comes to accessing technology on the go, but what if we’re trying to be sociable and our devices take away our attention, to the annoyance of everyone?

Well, a team of researchers has been working on a device that, with a flick of the wrist or a movement of the fingers, could quickly respond to a notification or action.

Future Human

The team from the Georgia Institute of Technology revealed its device, called the FingerPing, which uses acoustic chirps emitted from a ring. These chirps are received by the wristband to recognise 22 different finger micro-gestures that could be programmed to various commands.

This includes access to a T9 keyboard interface, which we’re all familiar with on our phones, as well as a set of numbers or application commands, such as playing or stopping music.

“Some interaction is not socially appropriate,” said Cheng Zhang, the PhD student who led the effort.

“A wearable is always on you, so you should have the ability to interact through that wearable at any time in an appropriate and discreet fashion. When we’re talking, I can still make some quick reply that doesn’t interrupt our interaction.”

Sign language translator

Aside from just making wearables a bit more sociable, the device could also be important for those who use American Sign Language (ASL) as it is capable of recognising the hand poses using the 12 bones of the fingers, and digits one through 10.

In its current state, the device is also a preliminary step to being able to recognise ASL as a translator in the future without needing to use cameras, which would be bulky, awkward and expensive.

Explaining the technology a bit more, Cheng said that the FingerPing reduces the bulky glove hardware of other devices to just a ring and a wristband.

The ring produces acoustic chirps that travel through the hand and are picked up by receivers on the watch. Each gesture is small and non-invasive, such as tapping the tip of your finger or posing your hand in typical one, two and three gestures.

“For instance, when your hand is open, there is only one direct path from the thumb to the wrist. Any time you do a gesture where you close a loop, the sound will take a different path and that will form a unique signature,” he said.

The plan is now to develop the proof-of-concept device into something potentially marketable.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic