Imagine if you had your hands full preparing a meal, but then had to put everything down so you could reach over to turn the recipe page on your laptop or tablet. Well, you wouldn't have to if you were using the NailO. Being developed by a team at the MIT Media Lab, the thumbnail-mounted trackpad is operated by the index finger of the same hand.
Packed into the tight quarters of the NailO are a battery, capacitive sensors, a microcontroller, a Bluetooth radio chip and a capacitive-sensing chip. As it was inspired by the ornamental nail art stickers worn by Asian women, the researchers also envision a detachable decorative top membrane that could be matched to the user's outfit.
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To use it, users first power it up by maintaining finger contact with it for two or three seconds. They then move their index finger up, down, left or right across its surface, guiding the mouse on the paired computer. To select something onscreen, they just press their finger down.
In the first prototype, the location of the user's fingertip on the pad was detected by capacitive sensors made from copper electrodes printed onto a flexible polymer sheet. Now, off-the-shelf electrode sheets designed for regular track pads are being used. The MIT team is also looking into a smaller half-millimeter-thick battery, along with a single chip that serves as a microcontroller, Bluetooth radio, and capacitive sensor chip.
Along with its use in hands-full activities like cooking or doing repairs, other envisioned applications include the ability to access functions while texting on a smartphone, or subtly sending simple text messages in settings where bringing out one's phone would be inappropriate.
The NailO can be seen in use in the video below, provided by MIT News.