Science

Wearable Tip-Tap tech allows for touch-free control of computers

Wearable Tip-Tap tech allows f...
The Tip-Tap device, seen here in the form of an electronic tattoo
The Tip-Tap device, seen here in the form of an electronic tattoo
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The Tip-Tap device, seen here in the form of an electronic tattoo
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The Tip-Tap device, seen here in the form of an electronic tattoo

Given how important it is for surgeons to maintain sterility in the operating room, they certainly shouldn't be poking at dirty ol' touchscreens while they're in there. A new wireless wearable, however, could allow them to navigate digital content such as preoperative planning diagrams, without touching the screen.

Being developed at Canada's University of Waterloo, the prototype device is known as Tip-Tap.

Easily applied to the surface of disposable surgical gloves – or applied directly to the skin in the form of an "electronic tattoo" – it's made up of a custom RFID (radio frequency identification) tag. The antenna of that inexpensive tag is split into two separate strips, one of which is situated on the thumb, and the other of which runs along the index finger.

Each of those strips in turn contains a row of three chips. By touching the thumb and finger strips together in different ways, users are able to bring any chip on one of the strips into contact with any chip on the other. Depending on which two chips are in contact, a different electrical signal is produced.

Like other RFID tags, the one used in the Waterloo system doesn't require a battery or a hard-wired power source. Instead, its antenna is temporarily powered up by the radio signal from a reader device, like a tablet or computer. In this way, Tip-Tap can transmit its electrical signals to such a device, where they're converted into different commands that control the onscreen display.

"What typically happens now with operation digital preplanning is that an assistant is responsible for navigating the computer and communicating with the surgeon, but this is slow and difficult," says Prof. Daniel Vogel. "If the surgeon tries to navigate it themselves using a touchscreen or a mouse, it’s problematic because it would require constant sterilization […] The idea is if you mount Tip-Tap in surgical gloves, surgeons could navigate the computer themselves from where they are, and it won’t affect their other actions."

Source: University of Waterloo

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