Skills for the 21st Century

Cognitive and Literacy Skills for Success in a Fast-Paced Technological Age

Skinput – Using Your Own Hide as Both Projection Screen and Keyboard

Posted by wrmcnutt on April 8, 2010

I constantly run across innovative ideas that never seem to get past the prototype stage, and I’m not sure if this one’s any different, but I think it might be.  Today’s Science Daily web site has an article on a prototype device developed by a Ph.D. candidate at Carnegie Mellon that has great potential.  And if not potential, at least a big coolness factor.

Today’s smart phones, MP3 players (iPods), smart phones,  and assorted media devices have massive amounts of computing power.  The biggest limitation on their utility is the ability to put data into them, get data out of them, and manipulate the data while it’s in there.  Our fingers are large and the screens are small.  If the designers make the screens and keypads big enough to be really useful, the device becomes bulky and hard to carry around.

Skinput proposes to resolve the input and control part of this problem.  The prototype devices projects a control menu onto the skin of the user and uses commercially available acoustic sensors to listen to the sound of your fingers tapping on your arm.  The sound does not travel through the air, but through your skin and through your bones.

The prototype is, naturally enough, large and bulky, but if the concept were exploited commercially it would be easy enough to shrink it down to the size of a wristwatch.  It would be trivial to use this interface to control simple devices like MP3 players (iPods) and cell phones.

Like most concept devices, this one has a long road ahead of it before it becomes commercially available, so it’s very hard to imagine what the impact of it may have on Adult Education.  I’ve seen many cool concepts stop at the prototype stage because the inventor found it impossible to sell the idea to someone with enough capital to develop it.  Will we be asking our students to please deactivate their skinput devices when they enter the classroom so that they can stay focused? Or will this become so ubiquitous that we can count on using it as an educational resource?  One of the trends that I think I have spotted over my career as a technologist is that simple devices tend to become successful. For example, the first “first person shooter” game, Doom, could be played with four basic controls: turn left, turn right, go forward/backward, and shoot.  The runaway technological success story of the 00’s, the iPod, had very few controls as well.

So this, like many others, is a concept to watch.  It’s hard to tell if this sort of thing will make it to market, or the impact it will have.


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