With small screen and owners’ bulky fingers, controlling smartwatches posed a real challenge. Hence, Georgia Institute of Technology researchers have developed ways to interact that provide a little more control.

Ph.D. student Cheng Zhang oversaw WatchOut, an interaction technique that uses taps and scrolling gestures on the case and watchband, “outside” the watch screen.

One demo app allows wearers to scroll up, down, left and right by swiping on the watchband. According to Zhang, it makes it easier to interact with GPS maps or menus. His study showed that scrolling on rubber watchbands was more accurate than leather bands due to the different friction of the materials.

The group also created an app that creates eight touchpoints on the device’s bezel. Rather than scrolling through a long list of apps, the user simply hits one of eight spots on the case to launch Facebook, for example. Hitting the sides of the watch can also control incoming calls.

Hands-free control is what the other team, led by Ph.D. student Gabriel Reyes, had in mind. He and a team of students created Whoosh, a technique that allows a person to control the watch by blowing, exhaling, shushing, sipping or puffing on the screen. The watch uses its microphone and machine learning to identify the breath patterns of each acoustic event, then assigns an action to each.

Voice recognition sometimes produces incorrect words when dictating a text message. Blowing quickly on the watch can erase words, while blowing on it longer will send the text message when ready. Finally, the technique also works with smartphones. A user can transfer content from the watch to a smartphone simply by sipping it off the watch and puffing it on the phone.

Dingtian Zhang, a Ph.D. student and labmate of Reyes, also designed a 3D printed case that snaps onto the watch. The attachment has eight holes around the bezel, each with varying lengths. When a wearer blows into each of the holes, unique frequencies are generated much like a flute. The watch’s microphone and Whoosh system detect the subtle differences in the frequencies produced and identifies the intended target. Each target is linked to a specific action within applications.

The final project, TapSkin, allows users to tap on the back of their hand to input numbers 0-9 or commands into the watch. The technique uses the watch’s microphone and inertial sensors to detect a total of 11 different tapping locations on a person’s skin around the watch.

 
Embedded content: https://youtu.be/Hhhchw7PweU Georgia Institute of Technology researchers’ techniques to allow greater control of smartwatches.