SkinTrack technology turns arm into smartwatch touchpad

SkinTrack technology turns arm into smartwatch touchpadEver since the advent of smartwatches, technologists have been looking to expand interactions beyond the confines of the small watch face. A new wearable technology developed at Carnegie Mellon University suggests turning the entire lower arm into a touchpad.

Called SkinTrack and developed by the Human-Computer Interaction Institute’s Future Interfaces Group, the new system allows for continuous touch tracking on the hands and arms. It also can detect touches at discrete locations on the skin, enabling functionality similar to buttons or slider controls.

Previous “skin to screen” approaches have employed flexible overlays, interactive textiles and projector/camera combinations that can be cumbersome. SkinTrack, by contrast, requires only that the user wear a special ring, which propagates a low-energy, high-frequency signal through the skin when the finger touches or nears the skin surface.

“The great thing about SkinTrack is that it’s not obtrusive; watches and rings are items that people already wear every day,” said Yang Zhang, a first-year Ph.D. student in HCII. He will present details of the technology May 10, 2016 at CHI 2016, the Association for Computing Machinery’s Conference on Human Factors in Computing, in San Jose, Calif. A video explaining the technology can be viewed on YouTube.

“A major problem with smartwatches and other digital jewelry is that their screens are so tiny,” said Gierad Laput, a Ph.D. student in HCII and part of the research team. “Not only is the interaction area small, but your finger actually blocks much of the screen when you’re using it. Input tends to be pretty basic, confined to a few buttons or some directional swipes.”

“SkinTrack makes it possible to move interactions from the screen onto the arm, providing much larger interface,” said Chris Harrison, assistant professor in the HCII and adviser to the research. The user wears a ring that produces a high-frequency electrical signal. When the finger gets near to the skin or touches the skin, that signal propagates through the skin.

By using electrodes integrated into the watch’s strap, it’s possible to pinpoint the source of those electromagnetic waves because the phase of the waves will vary. Electrodes corresponding to the 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock positions on the watch, for instance, can detect phase differences that can determine the position of the finger along the width of the arm; electrodes at the 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock positions can determine the finger’s position along the length of the arm.

The researchers found that they could determine when the finger was touching the skin with 99 percent accuracy and they could resolve the location of the touches with a mean error of 7.6 millimeters. That compares well with other on-body finger-tracking systems and approaches touchscreen-like accuracy.

The researchers showed that SkinTrack could be used as a game controller, to scroll through lists on the smartwatch, to zoom in and out of onscreen maps, and to draw. A number pad application enabled users to use the back of the hand as a dial pad for the onscreen number pad; hovering a finger over the hand acts as a cursor, highlighting numbers on the screen to aid in targeting touch points. The system has some limitations. Keeping the ring powered up is a challenge. Signals also tend to change as the device is worn for long periods, thanks to factors such as sweat and hydration and the fact the body is in constant motion.

The technology is safe. No evidence suggests that the radio frequency signals used by SkinTrack have any health effects. The body is commonly excited by daily appliances—everything from the tiny amounts of current drawn from the finger by touchscreens to the

RBI Working on Regulations to Curb Fraud in Electronic Transactions

RBI Working on Regulations to Curb Fraud in Electronic Transactions

The RBI is working to put in place a regulatory framework to address customer grievance and liability issues arising out of frauds in electronic transactions, Government said Tuesday.

“The matter is being further examined by the RBI to put in place a regulatory framework for addressing customer grievance and liability issues arising out of such frauds,” Minister of State for Finance Jayant Sinha said during the Question Hour in the Rajya Sabha.

He said the Banking Codes and Standards Board of India (BCSBI) had in 2014 come out with a recommendation of limiting the customer liabilities in case of frauds taking place through electronic channels.

Replying to supplementaries, Sinha said there was too much of cash transaction in the Indian economy.

“87 percent transaction happens in India in cash, which is not the case in other countries. So much use of cash transaction is not good…this increases cost of handling besides inconvenience,” he said and underlined government’s committment to encourage cashless financial transactions.

The RBI in its ‘Payment System Vision Document 2012-15’ for ushering in a less cash economy suggested drawing up of a policy framework establishing roles and responsibilities of banks and customers in electronic transactions to minimise fruads, fix responsibilities and zero liability protection to increase customer confidence.

The Document had also suggested drawing up a strategy for disincentivising usage of cheques above a certain threshold limit by customers and corporate which may include prescribing a cut off limit for cheques cleared through clearing house arrangements.

Sinha said a white paper was placed by the department for public comments in 2013. “Based on the response from the public, the department has not initiated any further action”.

Sinha further said the government had come out with a white paper on disincentivising paper cheques and sought public comments on it.

“However, the comments were not very encouraging. The charges levied for electronic transactions operated by the bank are low and transparent,” he added.

Sinha further said that National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) has been given in-principle approval to be the Bharat Bill Payment Central Unit (BBPCU) under Bharat Bill Payment System (BBPS), an integrated bill payment system.

BBPS is an integrated bill payment system to function as a tiered structure for operating bill payment system in India with a single brand image, providing convenience of ‘anytime anywhere’ bill payment to customers.

The present scope of BBPS will include utility bill payments such as electricity, water, gas, telephone and Direct-to-Home (DTH).

“We are brining a revolution in digital payment,” Sinha said listing various initiatives taken by the government to bring down the level of cash transactions in the country. “When we have cash in circulation in economy, we create a drag. If we move to digital, we will remove these difficulties,” he added.

BRICS Think Tanks Agree to Create Digital Diplomacy Roadmap

BRICS Think Tanks Agree to Create Digital Diplomacy RoadmapThink tanks from the five BRICS countries – Brazil, India, China, Russia and South Africa, have agreed to come up with a roadmap to create digital diplomacy.

This merged from the just ended BRICS digital conference held in New Delhi on April 28 and 29, Xinhua news agency quoted Sandiso Ngcobo, who joined a South African think tank delegation to the conference, as saying on Monday.

BRICS think tanks had gathered to find a common ground in addressing the regulation of cyberspace and shared skills, Ngcobo said.

Despite different cultural, political and economic backgrounds, the BRICS have found common ground in main issues, said Ngcobo.

“I am happy with what happened in India. We managed to exchange knowledge and skills. We discussed how the internet could be used to address socioeconomic challenges and we agreed in those aspects,” he said.

The BRICS think tanks also addressed the issue of language barriers, taking into account that information in BRICS countries is mostly communicated in English, thereby leaving many outside, Ngcobo said.

They also agreed to address gender imbalance and empower women by elevating them to powerful positions, he said.

“We reached a common ground to regulate cyberspace. We know that we have different cultures, and different political and government structures. We want to use technology to address social economic challenges and make it inclusive,” Ngcobo said.

This would help harmonise cyberspace to promote international trade and e-commerce, he added.

The BRICS think tanks will meet in India again in October this year prior to a political leadership meeting.

Sea Urchin-Inspired Crawler Developed for Mars Exploration

Sea Urchin-Inspired Crawler Developed for Mars Exploration

Inspired by the sea urchin’s intricate mouth and teeth, a team of engineers and marine biologists from the University of California-San Diego has developed a claw-like device to sample sediments on other planets such as Mars.

Bio-inspiration for the study came from pink sea urchins which live off the west coast of North America.

Researchers extracted the urchins’ mouthpieces, scanned them and analysed the structures at school of medicine at UC San Diego.

This allowed engineers to build a highly accurate model of the mouthpiece’s geometry.

Led by mechanical engineering professor Joanna McKittrick, the team also used finite element analysis to investigate the structure of the teeth.

“The urchin’s extraordinary ability to rip through rock could translate to a good sediment sampler for space vehicles like the Mars rovers, which currently use shovels to collect ground samples,” said Michael Frank, PhD candidate at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego.

“Our goal was a bio-inspired device that’s more precise and efficient at grabbing ground samples from different areas and won’t disturb the surrounding area like a shovel would,” he added.

On the third iteration, they connected the teeth differently to the rest of the device, which allowed it to open much easier.

The students were able to quickly modify each prototype by using 3D printers. The device was then attached to a remote-controlled small rover.

The researchers first tested the claw on beach sand where it performed well.

They then used the claw on sand that simulates Martian soil in density and humidity. The device was able to scoop up sand efficiently.

Researchers envision a fleet of mini rovers equipped with the claw that could be deployed to collect samples and bring them back to a main rover.

Scientists Win $3 Million for Detecting Einstein’s Waves

Scientists Win $3 Million for Detecting Einstein's Waves

Researchers who helped detect gravitational waves for the first time, confirming part of Albert Einstein’s theory in a landmark moment in scientific history, will share a $3 million (roughly Rs. 20 crores) Special Breakthrough Prize, according to the prize’s selection committee.

The Breakthrough Prizes for scientific achievements were created by Russian billionaire Yuri Milner along with several technology pioneers, including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Google co-founder Sergey Brin.

In February, a team from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) announced a pair of giant laser detectors had measured the tiny ripples in space and time first theorized by Einstein a century ago, capping a decades-long quest.

Einstein predicted gravitational waves as part of his seminal theory of general relativity, which explained gravity as distortions in both space and time caused by bodies of matter.

LIGO’s three founders – Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne and Ronald Drever, who dedicated much of their careers to gravitational wave detection – will share $1 million. More than 1,000 contributors to the project will also split $2 million equally.

“That’s much more modern and much more the way that physics gets done,” said Weiss, a professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, of the decision to honor the entire team. “You can’t credit just the three of us for this.”

Researchers said the gravitational waves came from the collision of two black holes, the extraordinarily dense objects that Einstein’s theory also predicted. The black holes, both many times the mass of the sun, were located 1.3 billion light years from Earth.

The waves should unlock new ways to understand the cosmos, including black holes, neutron stars and the mysteries of the early universe.

“For us to spend basically a half-century since the three of us started working in this field, to have it actually be pulled off successfully in the manner we dreamed – it was really remarkable and wonderful,” said Thorne, who is retired from the California Institute of Technology. “I’m forever grateful to the team that got it done.”

The winners will be honored at a December ceremony, when the regular annual awards for physics, life sciences and mathematics will also be announced. The Special Breakthrough Prize can be conferred at any time to mark “an extraordinary scientific achievement.”

Edward Witten, a prominent physicist who heads the physics prize selection committee, said the discovery’s magnitude warranted immediate recognition.

“There are a lot of basic things about Einstein’s theory of relativity that seemed like science fiction when I was a student,” Witten said. “This is the first time we’ve seen the full force of Einstein’s theory of gravity at work.”