WATCH: A prototype smartwatch that works purely on tilt controls

Saqib Shah
May 15, 2014

Despite their bulky dimensions,  many users would argue that smartwatches with touch-screen controls are still relatively hard to navigate due to their small screen size.

Although touch screens have become the norm on devices with larger screens, such as tablets and smartphones, they pose problems for the smaller displays on smartwatches. Consequently, swipe controls on wearables such as smartwatches can feel clumsy and alternative options such as voice recognition often suffer from technical glitches.

Well, as it turns out, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in the US may have a solution. They have developed a prototype smartwatch whose functions can be controlled by clicking, tilting and twisting its bezel.

As you can see in the video above, this results in a viable alternative to touch controls which the researchers claim can make it much easier to do things like set up appointments, play music, or navigate a map on the small display.

In the video a wearer can be seen interacting with a number of demo apps on the watch: clicking and twisting to set an alarm; tilting to pan across a map and twisting to zoom in; twisting and clicking to control the video game Doom, which researchers modified to run on the device.

“It’s not that these watches aren’t fast enough or even have enough battery life-it’s that we can’t get the input and output good enough,” says Chris Harrison, an assistant professor of human-computer interaction at Carnegie Mellon University, who worked on the project with several colleagues.

The group built a prototype device and presented a paper detailing it at the recent ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Toronto.

Harrison says the researchers tried to adhere to certain rules when making the prototype: it shouldn’t feel cramped to use, and users shouldn’t have to lift their fingers from the screen while using it. A 1.5-inch display sits in front of an ARM processor, and two Hall-effect displacement sensors measure movements of the screen along two different axes.

This allows for clicks, tilts, pans, and twists. The watch is connected to a laptop running software that processes the user’s interactions and runs an app that is shown on the watch face.

Although the prototype falls prey to the same bulky size and weight problems of most wearables, the results – in regards to its controls – are impressive.

Ultimately, some of these design issues may not matter in the long run as Harrison is also exploring ways we can control smartwatches without even touching them.

A newer project, which he has thus far refrained from discussing, investigates moving interactions onto the skin next to the gadget. “We’re really trying to think about ways to expand the interaction,” he says.


About the Author

Saqib Shah

Tech/gaming journalist for What Mobile magazine and website. Interests include film, digital media and foreign affairs.

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