Ever try to cook while using your laptop or your iPad to read a recipe, watch a movie, or Skype? You’re probably still cleaning eggy fingerprints from the keyboard. Thankfully, a new invention from MIT Media Lab could make navigating a device while your hands are otherwise occupied much easier by turning your thumb nail into a tiny trackpad.
It’s called NailO, and it’s really not much more than a smart sticker you put on your thumb nail, like nail art. But the sticker is really a sandwich of circuits comprising a touch sensor, battery, and Bluetooth radio. Stroking your nail while it’s connected to your MacBook could make the screen scroll up or down. You could also pair it with something like a Philips Hue to automatically adjust the light, or even use the NailO to type serendipitous messages into a device. (Although you’d better be good at Morse Code.)
According to Cindy Hsin-Liu Kao, an MIT graduate student in media arts and sciences, NailO was inspired by the stickers many women apply to their nails, especially in her home country of Taiwan. “It’s a cosmetic product, popular in Asian countries,” Kao told the MIT Press Office. “When I came here, I was looking for them, but I couldn’t find them, so I’d have my family mail them to me.”
Right now, like much of what comes out of Media Lab, NailO is just a concept. It can recognize about five different gestures with 92% accuracy, but the team feels they can do better: imagine if your keyboard or mouse failed you 8% of the time. There’s also an issue with false positives in the NailO’s current incarnation, which the team hopes to fix by requiring users to deploy a long activation press before the NailO recognizes your gestures.
The NailO will be presented at the upcoming CHI 2015 Conference in Seoul, South Korea. NailO’s inventors intend on continuing to work on the concept until its ready for prime time. Who knows? Maybe the next time you decide to wear some nail art, it’ll do more than just make you look ridiculous: it will control your iPhone.