Control Your Smartwatch with Skin Buttons

Control Your Smartwatch with Skin Buttons

Smartwatch concept projects navigation buttons onto your skin

Adriana Krasniansky, PSFK Labs
  • 19 november 2014

In case you’ve missed the past year of technology developments (or Apple product launches), the smartwatch is the rising star of wearable tech. Software developers, mobile manufacturers, and fashion designers alike are betting on societal adoption of wrist-toting technology. Yet, for all the hooplah, smartwatch enthusiasts have ignored a user experience concern their device presents: as great as the technology is, small watch screens are hard to navigate with human fingers.

Traditional watch design and the physical constraints of watch-wearing (how much weight our wrists can comfortably support) limit how large smartwatch interfaces can expand. In a creative response to device constraints, researchers at Carnegie Mellon have expanded the interactive area of smartwatches by projecting responsive buttons onto users’ skin.


Created by Carnegie Mellon’s Future Interfaces Group (FIG), Skin Buttons is a proof-of-concept interface that uses micro-laser projectors to display interactive icons on the surface of your skin. These touch-sensitive buttons can control music play, scroll through a screen, open an app, or prompt a phone call, among other basic device functions. Simple icons shapes minimize learning curve, and the lasers’ proximity sensors guarantee high-touch accuracy.

As FIG demonstrates in its Skin Buttons publication, the buttons are also low power and have minimal impact on device battery life—particularly important for the smartwatch product market, where constant charging requirements deter consumers.


Though the technology is not fully ready for commercial use, the Skin Buttons proof-of-concept demonstrates how around device interaction (ADI) can expand the interactive envelope around smartwatches, making them more user-friendly, particularly for individuals with poor vision or motor difficulty.

The Future Interfaces Group is an interdisciplinary research laboratory within Carnegie Mellon’s Human Computer Interaction Institute, working to make the interaction between humans and computers more intuitive. Their team also designed a smartwatch interface that responds to motions such as twisting and clicking.

Figlab // Techxplore

+fashion / apparel
+Market Research
+wearable tech

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