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Wall Street Journal: A Smartwatch That Works With One Hand

October 21, 2016 — 

As the Wall Street Journal reports:

Smartwatches can be handy—perhaps too “handy,” given that they require both hands to operate. That can be a problem if your other hand is full, nonfunctioning or missing.

Researchers have tried a variety of approaches to help smartwatch users who lack a free hand, such as putting acoustic sensors on the watchband to capture inputs from finger-tapping. These efforts have concentrated mostly on enabling discrete commands, such as moving down a list of songs one at a time. Voice commands also can work for such functions, although the noise of speech isn’t always welcome.

Scientists at Dartmouth College and the University of Manitoba have been working on another approach: enabling continuous input—such as drawing letters and shapes or panning across a map—of the kind more typical of using a mouse or stylus. They hope to avoid relying on a lot of arm-tilting for these motions, since that tends to take the screen out of view.

The solution that the researchers hit upon is to use the watch-bearing wrist as the socket of a human joystick formed by the hand. The range of motion permitted by the wrist makes it possible to exploit continuous hand movements, which can be mapped to continuous operations on the smartwatch. Moving the hand in predetermined directions allows for rapid scrolling through contacts or songs, moving back and forth across a map, or writing a single letter that could prompt the device to show all names starting with that letter. Hand movements can even be used to play games on the watch.

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