Smartwatches may be handy, but their small touchscreens can make them awkward to use with our big ol' fingers. It was with this in mind that computer scientists at Germany's Saarland University created a system known as DeformWear. It lets users control a linked smartwatch by using their fingertips to finely press, push or pinch a wearable sensor that's about the size of a pea.

So far, DeformWear has been integrated into a ring, a bracelet and a pendant.

In each case, the business end of the tech is a rubber half-sphere with a diameter of about 10 mm. Within it is an infrared LED that emits light onto the inside surface of the sphere, along with four photodiodes that detect and measure the light as it's reflected back from that surface.

When the rubber sphere is deformed by a finger, it causes a change in the way that the light is reflected. The photodiodes detect such changes, and use them to identify the manner in which the sphere is being deformed. Different types of deformation – such as being pressed down, pinched, or pushed to either side – are assigned to different smartwatch tasks such as mousing, zooming, selecting, or even searching through songs on a music playlist.

The Saarland team has already used the technology to control not only a smartwatch, but also a set of virtual reality goggles and a TV.

"When only a tiny sensor needs to be deformed for input, mobile devices can be worn at places on the body that enable quick and discreet input," says study leader Prof. Jürgen Steimle. "This will help the industry bring even smaller control devices to the market."

You can see a demonstration of DeformWear, in the following video.

Source: Saarland University