Wednesday, October 29, 2003


Type This On Your Toast  

Fingernail Sensors Could Replace Keyboards

By Charles Choi, UPI Science News

NEW YORK (UPI) -- Someday, a network of sensors, worn on the fingernails like press-on nails to detect finger motions, could replace the ubiquitous computer keyboard and mouse or maybe even help operate robots by precise remote control. Such interfaces would make typing unnecessary and could help people who suffer from repetitive strain injuries after spending long hours in front of computer screens, said researcher Stephen Mascaro, a mechanical engineer at North Dakota State University in Fargo.

"Because the sensors are so sensitive, you don't have to push down on surfaces very hard," Mascaro told United Press International. Repetitive strain injuries are one of the nation's most common and costly occupational health problems, costing businesses some $2.8 billion annually. The key to the technology is the subtle changes in blood-flow patterns under the fingernails whenever fingers move. "Depending on whether you push your finger straight down on a surface, or slide it back and forth, or bend it, you see all these different patterns," Mascaro explained, "and it's possible to tell them apart."

Each sensor contains light-emitting diodes that shine onto the nail. The more blood there is under it, the less light is reflected. Light detectors in the sensor read the blood patterns and relay them to computers that match them with corresponding finger motions. So, in principle, with fingernail sensors, an operator could interface with a computer by wiggling his or her fingers on a desk instead of typing on a keyboard. A buttonless keyboard could prove invaluable, Mascaro said, because computers are getting ever smaller, as are cellphones and other handheld devices. "Computers are going to keep getting smaller, but you can't shrink keyboards beyond a certain point," he said. "The best thing to do is to have the keyboard in essence built right into the person's own hand," and one could transform any surface into a keyboard with these sensors."

Yes, this sounds interesting, but I'm personally waiting for RFID stickers that would do the same thing at (I'm guessing) 2% (or less) of the cost of LED stick-on nails.

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