Aside from perhaps fashion and price being the biggest barriers to entry, the fledgling smartwatch market still has one large hurdle to overcome: the small size of the screen makes interacting with the device more difficult than interacting with other mobile devices. Even when the UI is specially tuned to a smaller display, typing is still either an exercise in frustration, or the feature doesn’t even exist. Buttons are small on a smartwatch, and they take up precious screen real estate, but what if you could remove the buttons from the bounds of the display? Skin Buttons, a project from Carnegie Mellon University, does just that: the buttons are displayed on your skin.
Skin Buttons projects the smartwatch’s buttons on the areas of your arm that are flanking the device. A team at Carnegie Mellon’s Future Interfaces Group placed four laser diodes in either side of the watch, and covered them with film that shapes project light into a recognizable icon. The icons are projected onto your skin, and the smartwatch knows what you tapped thanks to infrared proximity sensors.
In the above video, the device shows off a few essential mobile device features, such as a button to access your music, as well as a way to check emails and text messages. Unlike the name suggests, Skin Buttons doesn’t only display buttons — it can also project information onto your skin just in case the smartwatch needs to save precious real estate.
Obviously, Skin Buttons is just an early prototype, but it does evoke a sci-fi future where a tiny wearable box can project a large, interactive display. We’re nowhere near that tech at the moment, but Skin Buttons is paving the way.