LumiWatch: A smartwatch that turns your arm into a touchscreen

May 7, 2018

The love for smartwatches is rising steeply. However, one of the biggest problems with smartwatches is their small screens which often feels clumsy to interact with. But the way technology is growing, its only fitting that smartwatch interface also sees some robust improvements, with a wider range of inputs just like smartphones. Chinese tech giant, Huawei, did prove its interest in this regard, with a patent earlier this year. But researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and ASU Tech are already a step ahead, as they recently unveiled a smartwatch prototype, LumiWatch, that turns the wearer’s arm into a smartphone-sized touchscreen.


Prototype LumiWatch

First of its kind, the LumiWatch comes with a fully-functional built-in laser projector and an array of sensors. The watch can project an 1024×600-pixel interface of up to 40 square centimeters in size, which is roughly 5 times bigger than the interface of a typical smart watch. The watch features a 15 lumen scanned-laser projector, with continuous 2D finger tracking. It is powered by a Qualcomm 1.2 Ghz quad-core CPU, coupled with 768MB of RAM and 4GB of flash memory. The watch also has Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capability, and runs on Android 5.1. The 740 mAh lithium ion battery lasts over one hour on continuous projection. However, the researchers anticipate that the battery would last for around a whole day on intermittent use.



“Although obstacles remain for practical adoption, we believe our work demonstrates the first functional projection smartwatch system and constitutes a significant advance in the state of the art,” the researchers wrote in a paper, titled “LumiWatch: On-Arm Projected Graphics and Touch Input.”

Some of those obstacles include difficulty in projecting onto curved arms, and accurate 2D
finger tracking. Other big issue is the heating issue, as the inherent small size of smartwatches limits their heat dissipation capability. The researchers have set a strict 65ºC limit on internal component temperatures before shutting down the projector. However in practice, this limit can be reached within minutes if a full brightness white image is displayed continuously.

The prototype model of the watch is quite bulky, measuring 50mm x 41mm x 17mm (2 inches x 1.6 inches x 0.66 inches). But, this may go down if it actually develops into an end product. As for the cost, the researchers estimate that immediate retail cost of the prototype model would be around $600.

Remember the wristwatch worn by Robert Downey Jr in Captain America Civil War? While the whole concept of turning your watch into a full-fledged suit is still a bit too futuristic for our taste, these researchers have certainly gone close to making a part of this a reality.  Smartwatch displays don’t have much room to grow, but at the same time, human fingers aren’t getting any smaller. So it's probably the time we see some drastic changes in the way we interact with smartwatches.


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