A thumb ring for controlling digital devices may seem like the latest in a long line of interface gimmicks, but there's method to this jewelry madness. The Fingersound ring developed by researchers at Georgia Tech features built-in microphones and gyroscopes that allow the wearer to discreetly give commands or input data to connected devices by tracing lines and characters on their fingers with their thumb.

Modern digital devices allow people to carry access to the largest single repository of human knowledge in their pockets, as well as being able to communicate across the globe without being tethered to one place. They can also be a frustration because current interface technology leaves much to be desired and many people have had experience with hastily silencing phones ringing at embarrassing times or needing to control devices buried deep in a bag or inner pocket.

"When a person grabs their phone during a meeting, even if trying to silence it, the gesture can infringe on the conversation or be distracting," says project leader Thad Starner and Georgia Tech School of Interactive Computing professor. "But if they can simply send the call to voicemail, perhaps by writing an 'x' on their hand below the table, there isn't an interruption."

The idea behind the Fingersound ring is to create in interface device that is not only unobtrusive to use, and won't draw attention like a portable keyboard or mouse. In addition, it needs to allow the user to control a device, such as a virtual reality system, without having to look at it.

The thumb ring works using a number of tiny microphones and gyroscopes to note the position of the ring and listen for the distinct sound of a thumb running across the fingers. It's activated by sweeping the thumb down across the fingers, then tracing predetermined or custom characters, including lines, letters, and numbers, to input data or give commands. The audio and motion data are run through a series of filters to weed out ambient noise signals and irrelevant finger movements. Additionally, the ring provides the wearer with tactile feedback as they perform gestures.

"Our system uses sound and movement to identify intended gestures, which improves the accuracy compared to a system just looking for movements," says Cheng Zhang, the Georgia Tech graduate student who created the technology. "For instance, to a gyroscope, random finger movements during walking may look very similar to the thumb gestures. But based on our investigation, the sounds caused by these daily activities are quite different from each other."

The research was presented at Ubicomp and the ACM International Symposium on Wearable Computing earlier this year.

The video below shows the prototype Fingersound ring in action.

Source: Georgia Tech

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