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Computer Scientists Are Making Smartwatches Easier to Use

15 August 2016

It is no surprise that the small size of the face of a smartwatch can make it challenging for some users and limit the touch-input interface of the device.

A team of computer scientists from the University of St. Andrews are transforming smartwatch and fitness-tracking technology, allowing users to more easily play with their devices without having to buy new hardware.

Images show texting using pressure to select characters. (Image Credit: University of St. Andrews) Images show texting using pressure to select characters. (Image Credit: University of St. Andrews)

“I believe this could transform the way smartwatches are viewed and used, because our technique could be applied to most of the smartwatches and fitness trackers in the market without adding to the cost,” said Hui-Shyong Yeo, postgraduate researcher in the School of Computer Science at the University, who led the project.

The new technology, called WatchMI, allows wearers to access functions on their watch using a wider range of actions. So, for example, a user could twist his or her watch face, apply pressure to the screen, or simply pan the watch left or right to perform an action.

The new interface leverages the technology from the watch’s built-in sensors, such as the accelerometer and gyroscope, so it can be easily applied to existing watches.

The new methods make it quicker and easier to carry out a variety of functions. Perhaps a user wants to turn the volume up on the device; a twist of the watch face could handle that. For scrolling between menus maybe panning left or right is the solution. Even playing games could involve twisting the face to move a character and tapping with another finger to fire a weapon.

The new interface could also make texting from a smartwatch an easier task by using pressure to select characters instead of multiple taps.

Gameplay by twisting the face to move a character and tapping with another finger to fire a weapon. (Image Credit: University of St. Andrews) Gameplay by twisting the face to move a character and tapping with another finger to fire a weapon. (Image Credit: University of St. Andrews)

“Direct input with our smartphones or smartwatches allows many forms of interaction, however with small, diminutive devices our fingers and hands get in the way, blocking our view of what is happening. WatchMI overcomes this problem and allows us to wear and interact with all the pixels on our body-worn devices, not just the ones our fingers aren’t blocking,” said Professor Aaron Quigley, Chair of Human Computer Interaction at the School of Computer Science at the University.

Other examples of the new interface include twisting the watch face to change the time on the alarm clock, or using pan and twist to scroll across maps and zoom in.

The system was created with the help of researchers from KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute of Science).

To contact the author of this article, email Nicolette.Emmino@ieeeglobalspec.com


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