A 3D Printer Could Be Your Future Tattoo Artist

Ink junkies, take note— a machine could create your future tattoos.

Three French design students modified a MakerBot 3D printer to administer tattoos. One lucky volunteer is now the proud bearer of the world’s first 3D-printed tattoo — a perfect circle on his forearm.

Pierre Emm, Piotr Widelka and Johan Da Silveira modified the printer as part of a challenge from France’s Cultural Ministry and hosted through design school ENSCI Les Ateliers. For the challenge, the students had eight hours to create a project that remixes images, videos and sounds found in the public domain.

Though the original project used only a pen to create a temporary tattoo, the students worked in their spare time to create a printer that would create permanent tattoos.

The trio tested their machine using artificial skin before finding a volunteer and using a Scooter inner tube to the hold the skin taut.

A tutorial detailing the building process can be found online at Instructables.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/04/08/3d-printed-tattoo/

Data Analysis of David Bowie’s Career Expressed in ‘Sonifications’


David Bowie is the king of musical reinvention. For more than 40 years, he’s created a collection of music that is difficult to pigeon-hole.

Composer Alexis Kirke and electronic music pioneer Martyn Ware came together to analyze the data of Bowie’s shape-shifting oeuvre. They created musical sonifications — audio displays of non-sound data, such as heart rate monitors — from the data to gain a greater understanding of one of the music industry’s greatest chameleons.

Kirke and Ware searched for patterns in Bowie’s album sales and lyrics to translate them into music. They sifted through numerical data and did statistical analyses of elements, such as emotional content of lyrics and the usage of major and minor keys, to determine how the singer’s music has transformed emotionally over time.

The pair used a scientific database to search for positive and negative words in the lyrics, then expressed them through a hyperspeed piano. Kirke explained to Wired magazine:

The resulting music is almost textural in its effect — a little like “Flight of the Bumble Bee” for a robotic pianist! As the lyrics become more positive the pitch rises higher and higher, capturing the cycles of positivity.

Bowie’s international album sales data was translated into a electronic piece of music, with the pitch rising and falling in relation to the highs and lows of Ziggy Stardust’s career.

When listening to the sonification, Kirke insists you can hear and understand what represents the peak in sales, which is “an almost painfully high pitch,” while the lowest notes “make one cringe a little bit because of what they represent.”

The duo created the project as part of the Victoria and Albert’s latest exhibition, “David Bowie Is.”

Image via Alex Livesey/Getty Images

This article originally published at PSFK

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/05/08/david-bowie-data-analysis/

Magnetic ‘Micro-Robots’ Could Lead to Tiny Automated Factories


Robots assemble Porsche Macan cars in Leipzig, Germany, on Feb. 11, 2014.
Image: Jens Meyer/Associated Press

Remember those old electric football games that used a vibrating tabletop surface to send teams of tiny NFL players scrambling around the field?

Well, researchers at SRI International are developing a super-miniaturized, high-tech variation on the theme in which tiny worker robots shimmy around a circuit board in a micro assembly plant. The ‘bots are guided by magnets underneath the surface, and work in sync to assemble electronic parts and small mechanical systems.

The Diamagnetic Micro Manipulation (DM3) system uses magnets under the circuit board to guide the tick-sized robots in precise patterns. Because of their small mass, the bots can move very quickly and in the demo video below they appear to jump like fleas.

As with so many other things in life, cooperation is key. The circuit board is designed so that each tiny bot works in absolute synchronization with all the other bots — movements are precise down the the microsecond. The prototype system uses only a handful of microbots, but the idea is to scale the system up to employ thousands of mechanized blue-collar workers.

The DM3 concept is part of the DARPA Open Manufacturing program, which encourages lateral thinking in the manufacturing process. “Our vision is to enable an assembly head containing thousands of micro-robots to manufacture high-quality macro-scale products while providing millimeter-scale structural control,” according to the SRI project page.

The system has several potential applications, according to SRI. These include non-silicon-based electronics, prototyping of high-quality parts and — rather ominously — “tissue manufacturing.”

No word yet on the inevitable union issues, but it’s only a matter of time before the mechanical proletariat learn about collective bargaining.

This article originally published at Discovery News

Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/04/29/micro-robots-manufacture/

MeMini Is a Wearable Camera That Captures Moments After They Happen

Video can capture priceless moments — but not if you miss the shot.

meMINI is a wearable Wi-Fi-enabled camera with recall, which helps users save film-worthy moments in high-definition video after they’ve already come and gone.

Looping footage is captured every five seconds to five minutes. To permanently store the last recorded moment, users can press the recall button to transfer a file to cloud-based storage or the camera’s internal memory. The meMINI can loop video for three continuous hours on a full charge.

What’s more, users can attach the camera to their clothing via its magnetic back plates; this allows them to easily take it on the go.

An app compatible with iOS and Android can control the camera, the footage and how video is stored. It also lets users share moments they’ve recorded via email, social media or with the meMINI community.

meMINI co-developers Ben Bodley and Sam Lee are raising money for the device on Kickstarter. At press time, the device has already surpassed its original funding goal of $50,000.

“Technology changes—our memories should last forever,” the camera’s Kickstarter video explains. “Imagine if there was a device that captured our favorite moments that would otherwise be lost.”

Image: meMINI

Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/01/16/memini-wearable-camera/

Nest Is Just the Beginning of Smart Home Tech


These days, it seems like everyone is innovating for the future. From eco-friendly prefab housing to high-tech city bridges, companies and cities are putting unique and interesting spins on what they believe will change our future. But, think about this for a second: Have you ever thought long and hard about what your thermostat will look like in 10 or 15 years?

Probably not. Turns out that the thermostat, for better or for worse, hasn’t really changed its form or function in the last few decades, aside from a digital interface and more sophisticated temperature-sensing technology. It seems as though there wasn’t much to say about the device until the introduction of the Nest: A high-tech smart thermostat that broke the mold for its minimalist design and mobile, sustainable programming options.

“Before Nest, people didn’t care about their thermostat,” says Matt Rogers, co-founder and VP of engineering at Nest. “We’ve really awoken that frustration by bringing great design, great technology and a great experience to the space.”

Mashable spoke with Rogers about how the Nest broke the mold of digital climate control, and what he thinks is going to be the real thermostat of the future.

What do you think of high-tech climate control? Would you use it in your home? Let us know in the comments.

The Thermostat Speaks

Rogers says that in the year that Nest has officially been on the market, one of the places where the system has had the biggest impact the introduction of a “learning” appliance. Instead of a thermostat that simply controls the temperature in the house, or follows a (complicated) program set based on a timer, Rogers says that the impact of introducing learning into the thermostat has changed the way people view their climate control tendencies.

“If you turn it down before you leave, Nest will learn and turn it down for you,” Rogers adds. “It’s simple.”

He says he expects this sort of learning will lead to an even more personal thermostat of the future: One that will not only be able to recognize patterns in a house, but also be custom-tailored to work with the home’s features (a heated floor, for example, instead of a traditional duct system) to produce an optimized program without any input or jury-rigging from the user.

“People don’t buy ecosystems. People want to buy great things,” Rogers says.

Another mold-breaking feature that has proven a boon for the Nest team is accurate climate reporting month over month. Nest will actually collect heating and cooling analytics — which includes the time it takes to hear or cool a home, how much energy is being used, and the peak times for energy consumption — and send them to the user to track trends. He hopes that this feature becomes an important part of how we control the climate in our homes in the next few years.

“I think we’re just starting to scratch the surface into the things we can do with our data,” Rogers says. “We can understand so much more about the ecosystem as a whole.”

The learning, talking thermostat is bound to be noticed, meaning that consumers who adopt smart thermostats are also able to understand how their energy is working for them.

The Thermostat Goes Green (So You Don’t Have To)

Which brings the thermostat to another core tenet of Nest’s philosophy: sustainability. In 2010, Energy Star — the government program that monitors and rewards appliances that are known to save customers energy — completely killed its program for thermostats. With the thermostat controlling a lion’s share of energy costs and the inefficiency of the system preventing smart conservation, there seemed no feasible way to actually save energy.

Rogers says that the Nest is able to save its consumers energy and money because it does all the heavy lifting.

“Everybody likes to save energy and save money,” Rogers says. “But to ask them to change their lifestyle is a challenge. Instead, we give them all the tools to do it and lead them along the way.”

Nest sets the example because it already knows what temperatures promote energy conservation, and notes when users are saving money by displaying a little green leaf. Rogers says this visual feedback is an easy and simple way for people to know when a temperature is a “good” one that helps curb energy, or a “bad” one that sends it skyrocketing.

“You have that insight as opposed to having no idea and flying blind,” Rogers adds. “You can also do it in a simple way, and the leaf helps people feel that reward.”

He hopes the thermostat of the future will also be accompanied by the heater of the future and the air conditioner of the future — appliances that could talk to each other and take cues from algorithms to work optimally. When the system is cooperative, you’re more likely to see greater efficiency and adjustment throughout warmer and cooler months.

“We can drive a lot of efficiency from the thermostat when we drive communication to it,” Rogers explains.

The Thermostat Grows Up

It’s hard to see the future of digital climate control because it’s only been tackled within the last year, but as Rogers and the rest of the Nest team push forward, it’s easy to see that one thing reigns supreme.

“It has to be dead simple, as simple as possible.”

Don’t bet on any fancy tablet-controllers or a variety of knobs and buttons to control your air conditioner anytime soon: It turns out, sometimes the best solution for the future is also the least complicated.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/12/05/nest-climate-control/

Behind Boxee: How to Design Sexy Consumer Electronics


While Michel Alvarez was at Continuum and ASTRO Studios, he made a name for himself as an innovative and exciting young product designer.

His projects have included MIT Media Labs’ OLPC “Hundred Dollar Laptop,” work for multi-national clients such as Nike, LG, Samsung, Nvidia, Microsoft and Logitech and product design for Boxee, OOMA, and ASTRO Gaming.

Now running his own product design consultancy in South Beach, Florida called OBJECT, we caught up with Alvarez to talk design, development and all things consumer technology.

Q&A With Michel Alvarez, Award-Winning Product Designer and Principal at OBJECT

How did you come to specialize in the product design of consumer electronics?

Being an avid tech junkie, I’ve always had a personal interest in consumer electronics, their impact on design aesthetics, and their effects on bettering the human experience. During my time at ASTRO Studios, a design consultancy in San Francisco, I helped gain a strong pulse on the tech world and became more of an expert in visualizing emerging technologies into tangible product experiences.

It was the influence of Silicon Valley mixed with the raw energy and creativity found in the Bay Area that fueled my design work.

Although I gained experience working with more established brands such as Nike, Samsung and Microsoft, it was actually my work with smaller companies such as Boxee, OOMA and ASTRO Gaming that helped truly solidify my expertise in this space.

The eye-catching, asymmetric design of the Boxee Box by D-Link was incredibly fresh and well-received when it launched in 2010, flying in the face of the conventional stacking design. Can you tell us how this came about?

ASTRO was extremely lucky to collaborate with such an open-minded and creative team like the one at Boxee. They truly understood the importance of being bold and consistent with their brand and they backed our vision of this product from day one. We were challenged with the task of developing their flagship device that delivers Boxee’s digital media experience to the living room.

As designers, we’re always looking for opportunities to make an impact in the product world and their brand’s irreverence, ingenuity and emerging technology inspired us to create something radical and unique. It was our goal to evoke a stronger emotional reaction in comparison to competitors’ set top box designs, and we accomplished this by challenging conventional thinking and engaging the user’s curiosity even after the product is turned off. The “emerging cube,” as we called it, didn’t present the user with a traditional front face.

Instead it delivered a functional aspect of the product experience on each side of the device, and it sat at the apex of home media stacks with nothing ever sitting on top of it. At the end we were successful at capturing the whimsical nature of this emerging brand, while still delivering a design that was memorable and respected as a high-end consumer electronic.

What special challenges does the design of consumer electronics bring?

Designing for the consumer electronics space brings many challenges. One of the most common is developing product individuality in a saturated market. There are many companies developing “me too” products to compete directly with competitors and they tend to distance themselves from delivering products that reinforce their brand equity. These companies invest tons of money trying to sell their products by improving technical features and constantly lose touch with their consumer’s actual needs.

Maintaining a level of consistency within a line of products helps bring confidence in the brand. Our role as designers often extends beyond the look of the product, and we try to help companies understand the importance of maintaining their individuality.

Another challenge is designers are usually limited by the size and shape of the internal components for the device they’re designing.

It is very rare to develop a product from the ground up, and these technological constraints are very challenging when trying to make a product slimmer and stand out from the competition. These hard constraints push designers to think outside of the box by bringing a different approach to the manufacturing process, the method of assembly, and the use of unique material choices. Achieving that individualized product experience is important and having those limitations really do drive you to solve those problems more creatively.

As well as designing from the ground up, you’ve “refreshed” products, such as the Astro Gaming MixAmp. How does the design process differ in this instance?

When we refreshed ASTRO Gaming’s MixAmp, the brand was growing quickly and the team at ASTRO was developing future products that would build on the success of the A40 Audio System. The MixAmp, being such an important core product in delivering the ASTRO Gaming experience, was to be bundled also with the emerging A30 headset and needed to be updated to complement the design of both headsets. This gave us the opportunity to improve on the original design in a much shorter development scope driven by the release date of the headset.

Designing the product from the ground up was not an option, so we decided to focus our design efforts on redesigning the front face of the device which offered the most visual and tactile impact to consumers. Leveraging most of the parts from the original design, we began to explore different ways of designing and constructing the main dials, looked at the effects of varying the material and finishes, and simplified the overall graphic treatment on the device. At the end we delivered a product that felt smarter and high-end helping to progress the ASTRO Gaming MixAmp into the next phase of its existence.

Can you give us an example of a product in which you’ve brought a different approach to the manufacturing process/the method of assembly and/or the use of unique material choices?

During my time at ASTRO, I was one of several designers that worked with Nike’s Digital Sport group, helping them bring to life their Nike+ FuelBand. Although I can’t take credit for the way it was manufactured, I believe FuelBand is a great example of a program that I was a part of which leveraged the right materials with a unique manufacturing processes to achieve a slim, water-resistant design.

The device’s main body is made of an elastomeric (TPE) exterior that is molded right over the flexible internals creating a sealed core with no airspace in between. This unique manufacturing approach helps make the product solid and feel like you’re wearing a thin band on your wrist.

What advice do you have for aspiring product designers?

Stay passionate, learn from your surroundings, and don’t let overconfidence hinder your success.

Product images courtesy of ASTRO Studios

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/09/25/boxee-michel-alvarez/

5 User Experience Lessons From Tom Hanks


You may work for a company that just hasn’t figured it out. It may still be pondering, “Why should we care about user experience?” Maybe it doesn’t care at all. Maybe it has lucked into a strange vortex where customers are accepting of unpleasant interactions and misguided designs.

If you’re that lucky, stop reading this article and go buy a lottery ticket. If, on the other hand, you work at any company with a product, website or application within which a customer might fail or succeed, you should pause to understand how the strategic failings of some companies (e.g. Research In Motion, Yahoo or Sony) caused them to be leapfrogged by the vision of others (e.g. Apple, Google).

But delineating the underpinnings of user experience clearly for everyone is not an easy task. There are algorithms, axioms and antonyms abound. Our frequent reference-point is pop culture — something to which folks can relate. We’ve already touched on UX lessons from Tom Cruise and Johnny Depp. But a thirsty person crawling through the desert of knowledge needs more than two swigs. So today’s user experience lessons are five taken from the cannon of Tom Hanks.

1. Re-Skinning Can Allow Financially-Advantageous Reuse

In the 1980s sitcom Bosom Buddies, Hanks played Kip Wilson. The premise of this whimsical show was that Kip and his roommate, Henry Desmond (played by Peter Scolari), were only able to afford housing in an all-women’s apartment complex, so they changed their exteriors—cross-dressing while at home—to save on cost.

In UX, this type of saving is called re-skinning—a feature available in the more advanced modeling tools. Imagine you spend months perfecting a user experience by creating an advanced model, porting that to reference hardware, testing it with persona-like users, and iterating your masterpiece. And then management says, “I want that same thing, but for Brand XYZ.”

The cheapest and quickest thing to do is re-skinning: You swap colors or pictures within the model without removing all of the logic previously created and tested. At CES 2012, Paul Leroux (QNX) characterized re-skinning as “… essential to projecting a unique brand identity … cost-effectively for multiple model lines.”

And, just like Bosom Buddies, your male design can instantly look like a female design without a change to the core of product.

2. Fictional Personas Can Bring Sanity to the Project

In the movie Cast Away, Hanks plays a FedEx executive whose plane crashes in the middle of nowhere. He ends up stranded on an island with only a few household items salvaged from the wreck. Among them is a Wilson volleyball that—while battling depression and isolation—he transforms into an imaginary companion named Mr. Wilson (no known relation to Kip Wilson). This quasi-companionship helps Hanks solidify his resolve to escape the island.

In user experience realms, fictional characters whose goals help to formulate strategies are called “personas.” As Alan Cooper says in The Inmates Are Running the Asylum, “We make up pretend users and design for them … and they are the necessary foundation of good interaction design.”

And as Dr. Charles B. Kreitzberg perfectly summarizes, personas:

  • Enable designers to make inferences about the needs and desires of audience segments.

  • Serve to communicate user characteristics in a compact and easily understood way.

  • Help keep stakeholders from changing the definition of audience segments to advance narrow interests.

  • Put a face on the person for whom you are designing the UI.

Hanks put a face on the volleyball and, subsequently, put sanity back into his quest to leave the island—demonstrating that a fictional character can add value.

3. Task Completion Doesn’t Automatically Equate to Success

Paul Edgecomb is the head guard on Death Row in 1935 when several unusual and mostly miraculous events occur in the movie The Green Mile, based on a novel by Stephen King.

Without giving away too much of the movie’s plot, a critical scene in the middle is the execution of an inmate that goes awry due to some deception by an evil guard. The victim’s electricution causes him to die in a prolonged, fiery blaze producing a stench that will supposedly take five years to disappear. When confronted by the warden, Hanks’ character tries to downplay the debacle by calling it an objective success despite the tragic ending.

This is not uncommon in UX. A product will be stamped as a “user-friendly” success, based upon one of many objective measures employed by human factors engineers. Most commonly these include effectiveness or task completion, which measure the ability of participants to figure out the interface sufficiently enough to finish a particular assignment.

As Frøkjær et al (CHI 2000) points out, “When these studies make claims concerning overall usability, they rely on risky assumptions about correlations between usability aspects. Unless domain specific studies suggest otherwise, effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction should be considered independent aspects of usability and all be included in usability testing.”

For example, in a 2010 study of airline websites, participants were asked to complete various tasks such as finding the items not permitted through security. American Airlines was ranked second-best for task completion but near the bottom for the subjective rating of “ease of use.” In fact, one can see visually from that study that individual measures cannot deem success.

4. Complicated Interfaces Have Their Purposes, Too

We’ve all heard the acronym that doubles as a UX mantra: KISS—Keep It Simple, Stupid. However, we as an expert community must realize there are cultures and sub-cultures that prefer or seek complex user interfaces as a quasi-right of passage.

In Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, the protagonist, Robert Langdon must unravel an intentionally complex set of interfaces that only a highly skilled cryptologist or informed member of a secret society can unlock. The culmination leads to a cryptex, a complex combination lock. The user interface is intentionally intricate and arduous.

But this is fiction, right? Are there truly groups that desire multifarious interfaces? It’s no secret that commonalities in preferences can be found deeply-rooted in culture and that information is processed differently in Asia than it is in Europe.

But having tested navigational systems around the globe, we’ve seen firsthand that some cultures feel rewarded by overcoming a complex user interface. In the Far East and even in Western subcultures (such as engineers), having conquered a challenge demonstrates a level of sophistication that may be worn as a badge of honor.

So should we UX engineers always design for the zealots? Certainly not. But just like all design projects, we should not presume the desires of the user without understanding his or her motivations. In some instances—like the Road Rally app or a Murder Mystery game—simplistic is undesirable. Yes, sometimes the user only desires the riddle to be complex and still wants a simple user interface, but not always.

5. Exceeding User Goals Makes You Memorable

If you’ve seen Forrest Gump, you most definitely remember the scene in which Hanks, playing the titular character, not only runs through Alabama’s end zone, but continues to run right out of the stadium. A touchdown is a touchdown—it is worth six points regardless of where the running back stops outside the end zone. But this over-delivery made Gump’s touchdown memorable.

Sure, this simple lesson might be applicable to all business strategies—exceeding the expectations and goals of the user will make your product memorable—but it is absolutely applicable to the design of a UI. In Designing For Emotion, Aaron Walter, the lead user-experience designer for Mail Chimp, talks about making your product memorable.

“Hold on to that memory … that feeling is what we’re trying to craft through emotional design. We’ll create that feeling of excitement and we’ll bond with our audience …”

Similarly, in his book, Descartes’ Error, Antonio Damasio explains that feelings and associated projections play a role in choices according to the past experiences with which they are associated. A “somatic marker” (where ‘soma’ means ‘body’ in Greek) improves the predictive efficiency of the decision-making process by reducing the number of options and, therein, protecting the evaluator from future harm.

“You can think of them as a system of automatic qualifications of predictions, which acts, like it or not, to evaluate extremely diverse scenarios of the future[s] that lie ahead of you,” Damasio explains. Those which have gone favorably beyond your goals shall be remembered as predictors of future pleasant experiences and subsequently bolster the likelihood of returning.

So, just like Gump, your product could stop right at the goal line, but maybe by going the extra yards it’ll be that much more memorable.

Making sure your product’s user experience is satisfying, user-centered and performing beyond the customer goals is the path towards ultimate success. Designing for your customer persona and testing for customer satisfaction as well as task completion is the way to confirm you’ve headed down the appropriate design path.

Any other actions can be summarized by another quote from Forrest Gump: “Stupid is as stupid does.”

Photo via Ian Gavan/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

This article originally published at UX Magazine

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/11/19/user-experience-tom-hanks/

How Footprint Recognition Software Can Revolutionize Zoology


New software can now ID an animal’s gender and age based just on a picture of a footprint.

This is how it works: Key elements uniquely identifying a footprint are marked on an image, as shown above with an Amur tiger print, prior to algorithmic classification.

Studying animal behavior in the wild usually starts with figuring out just where the wild animals are hiding. Field biologists can use a combination of methods for this, such as radio collars, aerial surveys, and camera traps to remotely monitor animal movement. However, to an expert eye, a well-preserved footprint can also reveal a surprising amount about an animal: its species, gender, age, even its individual identity.

The trick is being able to do the identifying accurately and quickly. Over the last decade, WildTrack, an organization founded by zoologist and veterinarian Zoe Jewell and her husband, Sky Alibhai, has been developing image processing software to detect physical footprint characteristics that are hard for an untrained eye to recognize. The organization’s software is being used to track a variety of animals in different habitats, including Amur tigers in Russia, tapirs in South America, and polar bears in the Canadian province of Nunavut.

Jewell and Alibhai call their method footprint identification technique, or FIT. Professional trackers photograph footprints (with a ruler for scale) and add GPS coordinates. The footprints are then loaded into software that allows WildTrack to match them to a large number of known footprints from captive animals of the same species. Algorithms compare elements of the photographed footprint against those in a database of animals whose age and gender are known.

Jewell and Alibhai got the idea for WildTrack while working with black rhinos in Zimbabwe in the late 1990s. It has taken years of tweaking and tinkering to develop algorithms that reliably recognize footprints of a given species.

An ongoing challenge will be FIT’s reliability (it is currently 90 percent accurate at correctly determining the sex, age, and species). Nonetheless the technique is low cost, relatively easy to use, and noninvasive compared to radio collaring, which requires darting an animal. But FIT doesn’t work well with all animals yet, and is still very much in an experimental stage.

“The zebra hoof is a big challenge because it’s hard to mark different shapes. On the other hand, a cheetah or lion footprint, where you have four toes and a heel pad, there’s lots of complexity there, making it easier to identify individuals,” Jewell says.

Image: Jiayin Gu; Jennifer C.

This article originally published at MIT Technology Review

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/08/19/footprint-recognition-software/

Technostalgia: 20 Misty Memories of Personal Computing


Wear This Ring and a Touchscreen Will Identify You


Touching and finger-swiping are the dominant method of navigating on hundreds of millions of smartphones and tablet computers. The same touch might soon confirm your identity, too.

A new device dispatches a few bits of data, representing a password, from a special ring on your finger and sends the data as tiny voltage bursts through your skin for capture by the screen of the phone, so that your touch alone identifies you by the code from the ring.

Depending on the application, this could allow rapid switching between settings of people who share the same device, allow a game to distinguish between multiple players using the same screen, replace passwords, or provide an additional layer of protection atop passwords.

Currently a prototype at the Winlab of Rutgers University, the method “opens new directions in user interaction and authentication,” says Romit Roy Choudhury, a computer scientist at Duke University familiar with the research. “Imagine every electronic gadget knowing who you are and ‘adapting’ to your preferences, or even offering you personalized information” simply by knowing your touch, he adds.

Project leader Marco Gruteser, a computer scientist at Winlab, says he hopes to commercialize it within two years. The benchtop device used in the research is clunky, but it will be easy to miniaturize, he says.

The ring, in addition to conveying the information through your skin, can work in other ways as well. It can be applied directly to a touch screen to convey password data faster, or to convey more data for a stronger password.

The technology consists of a battery-powered ring with flash memory that holds a code, and a signal generator that transmits the code as tiny voltage spikes. Touchscreens —already designed to detect voltage changes from fingers touching and moving across the screen — pick up those spikes, and software on the phone reads them as password-like data.

There are other ways for a device to confirm who a user is: biometric-based approaches represent one class. The appeal of the Winlab approach is that so many devices use swiping already, whereas few commercial devices have retina-readers or finger-scanners (Motorola’s Atrix, one exception, includes a fingerprint sensor). A device that would use a voiceprint to identify its user, meanwhile, would require the owner to speak out loud.

A finger-swipe is not only discreet and specific, Gruteser says, it’s something people are already doing. “The key to figuring out who is using a device is to understand who is touching the screen, and that is what our technology can do,” he adds.

Of course, you now have to remember one more thing in the morning — to wear your ring (or whatever other form the token takes). And second, anybody who gets hold of your ring could use it to gain access to your device or settings until you reset the code your device is looking for.

At present, only a few bits of data per second can be transmitted quickly and accurately via such a ring. The equivalent of a pin code takes around two seconds for the ring to transmit, but Gruteser expects to speed that up by a factor of 10 by modifying touch-screen firmware in phones.

This article originally published at MIT Technology Review

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/08/31/rutgers-touchscreen-ring/