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Future Tech: 

Meet NailO, the trackpad on your thumb nail

Somewhere between a bandaid and a gaudy nail extension: the NailO prototype.

Somewhere between a bandaid and a gaudy nail extension: the NailO prototype.

When we think of thumb nails in tech, we typically picture small images just begging to be enlarged. Well, in confusing news, that might all be about to change as researchers present NailO, the trackpad that lives on your thumb nail.

Believe it or not, that nail cover manages to pack in a battery, a Bluetooth radio chip, a micro-controller and a capacitive sensing chip into something which – if you’ll excuse the pun – doesn’t stand out like a sore thumb. Even if it looks like it might be covering one.

“The hardest part was probably the antenna design,” Artem Dementyev, lead author of a paper describing the technology told CNET. “You have to put the antenna far enough away from the chips so that it doesn’t interfere with them.”

As the videos embedded here demonstrate, it can be used to control both mobiles and computers, and should the designs in the clips not appeal, fashion conscious wearers can swap out the detachable surface membrane for something that matches their outfit more closely.

Closely linking the NailO to your outfit and tastes ensures that the computer control takes one step closer to being part of your body, and unlike Google Glass or voice controls which make the world painfully aware of your wearable tech, these have the potential to be completely concealed. “It’s very unobtrusive. When I put this on, it becomes part of my body,” says Cindy Hsin-Liu Kao, the paper’s other lead author.

Early NailO tests have been extremely promising, with the pair revealing that gestural inputs have a detection rate of over 92 percent accuracy. One issue they’re currently grappling with is how to ensure that NailO ignores accidental taps and swipes. Currently they’re mulling over a two second activation press before NailO wakes up to reduce confusion.

Is there demand for this? We’re not entirely convinced – computer and mobile inputs are already designed to be quick and easy, and there’s an argument to be made about this being the answer to a problem that doesn’t exist. On the other hand (where our nails are currently unencumbered with technology), the cooking video above shows exactly how this tech could prove handy when your hands are busy.

“[You] have the power to take it off, so it still gives you control over it. But it allows this very close connection to your body,” says Kao. We’ll just have to see if that’s something that there’s a genuine demand for if and when a commercial release occurs – we’re looking at three years before that happens, so plenty of time to make our minds up while they nail the design.


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