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You can control your smartwatch using your breath

Posted: 30 January 2017 | By Darcie Thompson-Fields

Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a new technology that will revolutionise the way you interact with your smart watch.

The technology is designed to give LG and Sony smartwatch wearers more control over their devices. Features include the ability to reject a phone call hands-free by blowing on the screen and the ability to dial a number by tapping the back of your hand.

Ph.D. student Cheng Zhang oversaw WatchOut, an interaction technique that uses taps and scrolling gestures on the case and watchband, “outside” the watch screen.

“Other techniques that improve control of smartwatches have included 3D gestures above the screen, bigger screens or adding an extra armband,” Zhang said. “We wanted to show it could be done with existing technology already common on today’s devices.”

Zhang also created an app that creates eight touchpoints on the device’s bezel. Rather than scrolling through a long list of apps, the user simply hits one of eight spots on the case to launch Facebook, for example. Hitting the sides of the watch can also control incoming calls.

“Smartwatches aren’t very convenient when you’re carrying something,” Zhang said. “That’s why we wanted to create a technique that allows the user to tap the watch to accept or deny phone calls. Hitting the right side answers the call; the left side ignores it.”

The two other tech apps, Whoosh and TapSkin are also designed based on improving smartwatch functionality.

Ph.D. student Gabriel Reyes was inspired by watching his wife blow a piece of fuzz off her phone while holding their newborn son. He and a team of students later created Whoosh, a technique that allows a person to control the watch by blowing, exhaling, shushing, sipping or puffing on the screen. The watch uses its microphone and machine learning to identify the breath patterns of each acoustic event, then assigns an action to each.

Reyes and his team believe it could have potential for people with disabilities. “The sip and puff technique has been used to control wheelchairs,” he said. “Perhaps Whoosh could be the foundation for developers looking for ways that allow more control for those who can’t easily interact with their mobile and wearable devices.”

The final project, TapSkin, allows users to tap on the back of their hand to input numbers 0-9 or commands into the watch. The technique uses the watch’s microphone and inertial sensors to detect a total of 11 different tapping locations on a person’s skin around the watch.

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