Fashionable Electronics: Thumbs Up for NailO Wireless Trackpad


The NailO Wireelss Trackpad sits on your thumb and wirelessly keeps itself busy by controlling your smart phone. It can do just about anything; answer calls, overlay pictures with your own art or type the text of your next novel. According to Tessa Verenson at TIME Magazine: "The device could allow users to answer the phone while cooking, control their cell phones even when their hands are full or discreetely send a text."


NailO Wireless Trackpad: Source: DamnGeekyNailO Wireless Trackpad: Source: DamnGeeky


Where did the idea for NailO come from?

The inspiration for NailO came to MIT researcher and graduate student in media arts and science, Cindy Hsin-Liu Kao, from the colorful nail stickers so popular in China. She couldn't get them in America and decided to make one with soeme special technical powers. The prototype for NailO was presented just a few weeks ago at the Association for Computing Machinery's Computer Human Interaction Conference in Seoul, South Korea.

How does this trackpad work?

NailO has a battery and capacitive-sensing chip which functions as a versatile mechanical button in human to machine interfaces. The chip is made from copper electrodes and a Bluetooth radio chip, both of which are crammed into a very small space. The antenna is the only piece of hardware outside the touchpad and it is there because there was no other way to combat signal interference issues with the electronics embedded within.


NailO-Closeup: Source: NewsOffice.MITNailO-Closeup: Source: NewsOffice.MIT


Although NailO may still be a bit away from life as a marketable wearable input device, it has more than a few things going for it. Due to the fact that it is a hard surface with no nerve endings, anything affixed to it isn't likely to impair movement or cause any discomfort. Other fingers can easily access the device even if the user is busy holding something. In Kao's own words:"When I put this on, it becomes part of my body. I have the power to take it off, so it still gives you control over it. But it allows this very close connection to your body."

 One of the bigegst challenges facing the crerators of NailO concerns the capacitive sensors, as they had to find a way to fit a battery and three separate chips into a space the size of a thumbnail. In the words of Artem Dementyev, co-researcher and media arts and science graduate student, "You have to put the antenna far away from tehe chips so that it doesn't interfere with them."

Energy efficency is of primary importance with a wireless device  as small as this one. NailO can't be left on when not in use and would have to be deactivated. Surface contact with the user's finger for just a few seconds prevents inadvertant deactivation.

Researchers Kao and Dementyev were only part of the research team that developed NailO. Their focus was on the software that interpets the sensors, filters out the noise and translates it into screen movements, while their advisor, Chris Schmandt and associate professor, Joe Paradiso, concentrated on the circuit design.


NailO Designs: Source: DamnGeekyNailO Designs: Source: DamnGeeky


 The search for the right battery took them to China where they found a technology that could produce a very thin battery (half a millimeter thick) that could fit into the space of a thumbnail. A special three-in-one chip further saves space by blending the functions of the microcontroller, radio and capacitive sensor.

The future of NailO

There is still a long way to go before a touchpad such as NailO can replace an operational mouse or keyboard, but its creation through experimentation makes it possible to develop new and more efficient wearable wireless devices.

Closing thoughts on wireless technology:

To be happy in this world, first you need a cell phone and then you need an airplane. Then you're truly wireless. ~ Ted Turner


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