FUMBLING in your pocket to play with your iPod can ruin your concentration while running. Now you won’t even have to break stride to change a track with a device that allows users to control and toggle through a play list without even touching their iPod.
The unnamed device, which Japanese firm NEC hopes will go on sale within the next couple of years, is composed of two black sports wristbands, each embedded with an acceleration sensor, which detects movement. The sensors use Bluetooth to transmit data on the position of your hands, for example, to your iPod or MP3 player, pre-loaded with NEC’s software.
The wristbands are able to create five “buttons” out of the user’s hands and arms. Clapping hands is registered by the software as “play” or “stop”. A tap on the lower left arm means “next” track, while a tap on the upper left arm is “previous” track. The right arm acts as the volume control. Tapping the lower right arm signals volume-down, tapping the upper right arm is volume-up.
“The wristbands can create five ‘buttons’ out of the user’s hands and arms. A clap means ‘play’ or ‘stop’”
Lead researcher Shin Norieda, says that the sensors can tell where the user is tapping by how attenuated the signal is – the further up the arm the tap takes place, the weaker the signal reaching the sensor. Data from the acceleration sensor tells the software which arm is moving and which arm is receiving the tap and also whether it is a sharp one. Norieda claims normal running movements will not be confused with taps. “If you tap something, the waves form a sharp peak,” he says. “We filter out the shorter wave patterns to avoid confusion.”
Each sensor also carries a positive charge on the outer side and a negative charge on the inside of the wrist. The software detects when the two negative charges are brought close together as you clap and switches between “play” and “stop”.
Hiroshi Tanaka, professor of engineering at the Kanagawa Institute of Technology in Atsugi, Japan, said that “a certain amount of calibration may be needed for each user of the device” as each individual taps in a different way.
NEC also hopes to sell the technology to commuters to control music on crowded trains where it can be hard to free your arms. NEC researchers presented the technology at last month’s Tokyo’s Interaction 2011 conference.