This Little Device Turns Your Thumb Nail Into a Track Pad

By Jamie Condliffe on at

Sometimes your hands are completely tied up when you need to use a device the most; even gesture recognition is no use, let alone a touchscreen. Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s latest input device, which turns your thumbnail into a track pad, could help.

NailO is inspired, apparently, by decorative nail stickers — but it seems a little more useful than that. Developed at MIT’s Media Lab, the multilayer device takes your touch and sends it via Bluetooth to a mobile device or computer; a battery, circuitry, capacitive sensors and a cover are all squeezed into the small set-up.

The device recognises several gestures, and is shown in use in the video below. It’s also capable of being used to type characters, though we suspect that’s a rather laborious process. Better, probably, used in situations where both hands are a full but a quick thumb swipe is convenient: when you’re cooking, say, or looking at instructions while your hands are occupied with tools.

In tests, the device has been shown to detect five different gestures with 92 per cent accuracy, reports CNET, which probably isn’t quite enough to feel seamless in use, but it’s getting there. The team behind it also suggests that accidental gestures (quite likely) could be avoided by requiring a long activation press before gestures are acted upon.

There have been, understandably, headaches along the way: combining an antenna and processor in such close proximity is difficult, and finding a small enough battery with respectable life is difficult, too. Regardless, the researchers plan to continue to develop the concept.

The team will present the device at the upcoming CHI 2015 human-computer interaction conference in Seoul, South Korea. [MIT and CNET]